iPad apps that you need

By Steve Paris

The iPad's finally here, but you might find its bundled programs a bit lacking. You can browse the web, send emails, listen to music and watch films and TV shows, but this is actually a powerful computer. What else can you do with it?

Apple's App Store - available through iTunes on your PC or Mac or directly from your iPad thanks to the App Store program, has over 275,000 applications to chose from. Which one should you try first? We've gathered a few to help you get started.

In these tough economic times, you'll be pleased to learn that you may not have to start your program collection from scratch: if you already own an iPod touch or iPhone, nearly all the ones you already have are compatible with your new device.

Just connect your iPad to your computer and they'll all be transferred over. There is a difference in screen size of course, and the iPad deals with that by showing an iPhone app in its native resolution in its centre. But that's highly unsatisfying.

Thankfully, you can tap on the '2x' button, lower right, to scale the program's size to fill the screen. Everything will then look a little jagged but the program will be perfectly useable.

Many developers have already made iPad versions of their applications, but if you own the one for the iPhone, see what it looks like on the bigger screen first.

You may feel perfectly happy with it and you can use the savings to purchase other programs instead.

Not all iPhone apps have to be magnified to fill the iPad screen: some have been updated to accommodate both screen sizes meaning you essentially get two programs for the price of one. In order to know which ones work natively on both devices, Apple have added a little '+' to the left of the app's price tag when browsing the catalogue through iTunes on your PC or Mac.

Bearing all this in mind, you may not feel the need to get new applications, but when more than 16,000 programs have already been made with the iPad in mind, it might be worth taking a look at what's available.

First of all, let's fill the gaps: the iPad doesn't come with a weather application or even a calculator, two programs which come standard on the iPod touch and iPhone. The Weather Channel Max for iPad deals with one and Jumbo Calculator, brings basic calculator functions to the iPad. If you're more in the market for a scientific calculator, take a look at PCalc Lite Calculator.

You'll be pleased to know that all these programs are free. An alarm clock replacement isn't ideal at the moment: the one on the iPhone is multitasking, meaning you can set an alarm and switch to another application and it'll still alert you at the right time.

Although there are third-party iPad programs that replicate this function, none are multitasking so if you quit the program, it won't wake you up. This is set to change when the system is updated in a few months, but until then, the iPad won't make a good alarm clock.

So what else can the iPad do? Well, there's eBooks. Both Apple's own iBooks and Amazon's Kindle are available as free programs from the iTunes Store. You can download books straight from within them, both offer the first chapter as a free sample, and you have a selection of free books to choose from.

There appears to be more free books on iBooks but Kindle has a greater catalogue of paid content. Also, iBooks supports the ubiquitous PDF format meaning you can add your own documents to it if you like. Since they are free, you have nothing to loose by downloading them both and trying them out.

The iPad is incredibly new but it's already redefining how we interact with information. Take a look at the free Flipboard for instance. It connects to your Facebook and Twitter accounts and displays links sent by your friends or the people you follow as if they were pages from a magazine.

It's incredibly convenient and you can also do the same with news, movie trailers, technology, pretty much anything you fancy. It could change the way you consume media.

But the iPad is much more than a consuming device and Apple have shown this with the release of their redesigned iWork suite of applications. You can purchase Pages, Numbers and Keynote for $13.99 each and they are quite remarkable: you can write a document, insert photos and change fonts, build a spreadsheet and even work on a presentation. But don't be fooled: these aren't the equivalent of the iWork suite on the Mac.

Worse still, there are many compatibility issues between the iPad and the Mac versions meaning that if you were to move a document from your computer to the iPad, the chances are high that some formatting will get lost along the way.

The same is true when moving back and forth from Microsoft Office. However, as self-contained touch-based programs, they're very versatile and light years ahead of their competition.

Don't despair though: there is a way for you to get a full-featured word processor like Microsoft Office, or any other program from your PC onto your iPad: with programs like LogMeIn [$38.99] or iTeleport [$30.99] you can connect to your computer remotely, see your Desktop right on your iPad and control your cursor, windows and just about anything else with your fingers.

You need to set up your computer to enable screen sharing, but both programs offer clear and simple instructions on how to achieve this. It's an amazing feeling to be able to control your main computer with the touch of a finger, not only from another room, but from anywhere in the world.

If you have more artistic inclinations, then give Brushes for iPad a look [$10.99]. With it, you can paint with your fingers with a remarkable level of precision. You can alter the thickness of your brush, change colour, use multiple layers, etc. It's like a simpler, touch-friendly version of Photoshop and it also comes with a nice feature: tap on its play button and it'll animate the creation of your artwork, stroke by stroke. But be warned, you may end up fighting with your kids for who gets to play with Brushes.

Some programs show how versatile the iPad can be as a learning tool: Solar Walk [$4.19], The Elements: A Visual Exploration [$17.99] and Magic Piano [$1.29] illustrate this perfectly. With them, you can explore our solar system, see the planets orbit the sun over time, travel to distant moons and learn all about them; you can interact with every element of the periodic table, touching and rotating everything you see on the screen; and you can master a new kind of piano, listen to others practising in real time and even pair up with someone else around the world for a lively duet.

Like the iPod touch, you'll find the iPad is a great device for games, but you'll quickly discover that it's actually perfect for board games. Its large screen makes it ideal to play with others and the best example of this is Scrabble [$13.99].

The interface is a little clunky, but it has some amazing ideas: for instance, if you also own iPod touches or iPhones, you can download the free Scrabble Tile Rack program and use them to keep your tiles to yourself while everyone else focusses on the board on the iPad, thinking of their own next move. The experience is absolutely amazing and shows just what is possible with this technology. Other community games worth checking out are Small World [$9.99], Table Checkers HD [$1.29], War Chess [Free] and Simple Hockey [$1.29].

You'll also find many more traditional games: if you're fond of the real pinball machines for instance, you'll love Pinball HD [$4.19] with its smooth pans and zooms as you follow the ball over one of three beautiful tables.

Those of you who fancy a gentle, relaxing puzzle will gladly lose themselves in Zen Bound 2 [$4.19] where you have to wrap a rope around a wooden object by rotating it, and N.O.V.A. - Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance HD [$9.99] is an excellent example of a first-person shooter, similar to Halo. There's even a multiplayer option both over your local network or online. Finally, if you like your old favourites and long for a game of solitaire, be sure to download Real Solitaire Free for iPad.

This is barely scratching the surface of the thousands of programs waiting for you in the App Store. There's lots to see and do with an iPad and you may find that it will change the way you use a computer. Welcome to a more personal age of computing.

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