The Essential iPad Apps

playing games on the iPad

The iPad App Store is open! Here are the best of the apps so far—the ones you’ll actually want when you finally get your iPad.

This guide will be updated this weekend, since apps are stilling flowing in by the hundred.

You might notice a few things about these apps: A lot of them are iPhone carryovers, and a lot of them cost more than you might be used to in the App Store economy. Both are valid observations! But for a first batch, these apps do look rather spectacular.

Check out the apps you can’t live without >


Netflix: Netflix streaming, over Wi-Fi. That's thousands of movies and shows, if you have an Netflix account. (Which costs, what, like 9 bucks a month nowadays? Brilliant.) Free.

ABC Player

ABC Player: One of the first TV apps in the store, and a promising start. It's essentially a slick interface for the ABC video content you can already stream on their website, and it's free.

Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics: The iPad is like something out of a sci-fi movie. Or a comic book. Also, it is a comic book. Excelsior! Free reader, paid comics.

NBA Game Time Courtside

NBA Game Time Courtside: Imagine having a full, interactive dashboard for every basketball game you watch. It's like that. Free

MLB At Bat.

MLB At Bat: Lets you watch games live, just like the iPhone version, but for games you can't watch for licensing/blackout reasons, it'll basically simulate them. Also: Stats overload. $15.

ESPN ScoreCenter

ESPN ScoreCenter: If game-specific apps aren't your bag, ESPN ScoreCenter provides a sickeningly constant feed of sports information. Drilling down for specific game scores on your iPhone was one thing, but the columns, panes and frames here are almost too much. $5

Yahoo Entertainment

Yahoo Entertainment: A TV listings guide/entertainment news/video hub, which pulls from Yahoo's vast network of sites. Free.

Flight Control

Flight Control: The objective: make sure your planes don't hit one another before they land, by tracing their paths with your finger. A natural fit for the iPhone, and an even more natural fit for the larger iPad. $5

Plants vs Zombies

Plants vs. Zombies: A simple tower defence game, in which you plant a variety of monstrous foliage to stop a horde of zombies from invading your house. Conceptual weirdness aside, the extra space granted by the iPad opens up the game--and in particular, the planting grid--massively. $5


Fieldrunners: The classic iPhone tower defence game, except bigger. $8


Scrabble for iPad: This is one of the apps early reviewers really flipped out about. Basically, it's a very pretty, very animated version of Scrabble. And if you have an iPhone, you can use it as a letter tray. $10

Mirror's Edge

Mirror's Edge: An adaptation of that awesome jumping/sliding/shooting game that made a bunch of people motion sick when it came out on PS3 and Xbox. $13

civilisation Revolution

civilisation Revolution: We sent around an email a few weeks ago about which kind of apps we really wanted for the iPad, and RTSes and turn-based strategy games were in everyone's top 5. civilisation is a classic in the genre. $13

Labyrinth 2

Labyrinth 2: The iPhone's best marble rolling game was enjoyable precisely because of how complicated it had become--you weren't just dodging holes, you were dodging lasers, cannons, winds and security cameras. Plus, the subtle 3D graphics were always beautiful. $8


Uno: Little kids don't care about Flash, or multitasking, or whatever nerdy technical hangup you've got about the iPad. All kids care about is Uno. Uno! $7

Geometry Wars

Geometry Wars: Super-popular space shooter/puzzler makes more sense with touch controls than it ever did on a console, where it was fantastic anyway. $10

Smule Magic Piano

Smule Magic Piano: Piano apps for the iPad were inevitable. Contorted, bizarre, gamelike piano apps? Even better. $3

New York Times

NYT Editor's Choice: This is what the New York Times looks like on the iPad. Free.

USA Today

USA Today: USA Today, too, decided to go with a faux-newspaper look. Free.

Wall Street Journal

WSJ: The Wall Street Journal's paper-chic app is conservative, so to speak. (Also, notice the three biggest newspapers in the country released free apps on day one? Or really, day -2?)


BBC: There's something serene and reassuring about the BBC's news coverage, whether it be video, print, or radio--all of which are here.

Popular Science

Popular Science: It's tough to tell how the layout really works here, but the App Store tease suggests it's more than a simple magazine scan--and we're told it's influenced by the stunning concept we saw back in December. And hey, it's PopSci! $5


Bloomberg: Well hey, you iPad is now a hardcore finance terminal. Extra points for the All Business aesthetic. Free


NetNewsWire: Every iPad needs an RSS reader. This is the platform's first premium reader, from an established outfit. $10


Feeddler: If you don't want to spend another $10 just for a feed reader, Feeddler covers the basics (read: news leeching) for free.


Craigsphone: Craiglist, the website, looks like shit. Craigslist, the iPad app, looks kind of great! I gotcher' free bikes and old couches and casual encounters, right here. Free

Fluent News

Fluent News: If RSS readers aren't your style, and you want your daily news mashup to be a little more guided, fluent consolidates major new sources into a single interface. Free.



Twitteriffic: Twitteriffic got right out in front with a full-featured Twitter app that doesn't cost a dime. Expect a lot of competition for this one soon.


AIM: AOL's instant messaging app looks pretty great, especially for the price. Free

Loopt Pulse

Loopt Pulse: Localism! Figure out what's going on around your sofa, from your sofa. Free

Dash Four

Dash Four: $2. Foursquare on the iPad might sound like a strange idea now, but it won't seem so strange next time you're in Starbucks, checking in on your iPad

The Elements

The Elements: A Visual Exploration: Sounds a bit pricey for a periodic table, but the vividly animated illustrations of every substance our world is made of more than make up for it. $14


iWork: Again, expect some competition in the word processor/presentation app/spreadsheet arena, but not for a while. Until then, Pages, Numbers and Keynote make for a fairly impressive productivity suite for $30, or $10 each.

Dragon Dictation

Dragon Dictation: You speak, it writes. Free

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha: Remember when this was $50, available for the iPhone, and slightly less useful than Wolfram's website? Well, now the megasmart mathematical search engine/calculator is $2, available for the iPad, and looks wonderful

World Atlas

National Geographic World Atlas HD: The earth, annotated by the people who've been obsessed with documenting it since before your grandparents were born. $2. You need a dictionary on your iPad. Here is a free dictionary for your iPad. (And even a thesaurus!)


Epicurious: Expect a slew of iPad cookbooks to show up in the App Store, and expect a lot of them to be less useful than Epicurious' tremendous database of recipes. Free.


Kayak: A travel planner, writ large. It always felt weird dropping hundreds of dollars on airline tickets on your phone, anyway. Free.


IMDB: The ender-of-all-movie-arguments app will now sit dormant on your iPad, on your coffee table, waiting to distract you from that movie, with that guy. (What's his name?) Free.


Brushes: Scribbling/drawing/painting apps are such an obvious use for the iPad's touchscreen. This one's full-featured, but garish and toylike. $10

Sketchbook Pro

Sketchbook Pro: Sketchbook, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated, and a bit more powerful. This one's for the serious artists, while Brushes will probably appeal more to the kids. $8


Ebay: You got your iPad early, congrats! Now turn around, mark it up, and sell it to some dude in London, stat. Free.

Connect to PC

Connect to PC: Want to know what the iPad would be like running Windows? OS X? Linux? Download this VNC client, and control any computer in your house, wirelessly. $5


Bento: A life organiser, portfolio, scrapbook, and general information receptacle.

Voice Recorder

Voice Memos: The iPad doesn't come with a voice recorder app, for some reason. Here's a free one that looks like it records sounds just fine.

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