You’ve seen the commercials: apps are what makes an iPad come to life. Here are the very best ones for work, play, creation, consumption and everything in between.
UPDATED DECEMBER 1, 2012.
Instamap: Instamap is an Instagram browsing app on your iPad that lets you check up on your stream, see popular photos and even subscribe to particular tags and locations. It’s wonderfully designed, and though you can’t take pictures, it’s good a way to peek at Instagram on your iPad. $1.99.
Skype: Skype. For iPad. Finaleffingly. It works over 3G or Wi-Fi, and you can talk to anyone using Skype, which is pretty much the de facto standard for video chatting these days. There’s also features for IM, emoticons and support for both front and back cameras. Free.
Twitter: The official Twitter app for iPad packs in the features, giving you a full tweet-and-browse experience. It can be a little bit overwhelming at first, but powerful things often are. Free.
Flipboard: A true testament to the iPad’s transformative powers, Flipboard scrapes your Twitter and Facebook feeds for links and arranges them in a simple, beautiful magazine-style format. Free.
BeeJive IM for iPad: If you’re looking for one place to corral all your chats, BeeJive is it. It’s the best-looking IM client for the iPad, connecting to AIM, GTalk, Facebook chat and a handful of others. $10.49.
ooVoo: Skype might be your proxy video chat service, but it taps out at a maximum of 10 people on one call simultaneously. To expand your party line, try ooVoo. It links up with your Facebook friends list to let you talk with a maximum of 12 friends at once. They don’t even have to have ooVoo installed, just access to Facebook chat. Free.
Jetpac: Be careful, because this app might trigger a case of wanderlust in you. It displays your friends’ best travel photos and lets you upload your own as well. You can see where your friends have visited, get holiday tips and make a list of all the places you want to go. Free.
Guest’d: If you run a business, you want to keep track of the people that stop in. This helps you save all that information in beautiful, completely customisable guest books for your iPad. $10.49.
Path: The anti-overshare social network’s iPad app just launched with some tablet-exclusive features like landscape view, which shows you all the news from just today in a beautiful, picture heavy, tile-like design. And of course, you can still post things like what you’re eating, who you’re with, and where you are, but your audience is limited to your actual friends as opposed to everyone you’ve met, ever. Free.
Vjay: MTV’s Making the Video might be off-air, but you can still make your own music videos with this app. Use your own footage or pre-loaded footage, buy new clips from iTunes, and stream them to your Apple TV or home theatre. $10.49.
Condition One: Have you ever wondered what’s happening outside of the shot in a video? This is a really wonderful gyroscopic app that lets you explore the clip and look at footage from different perspectives. With simple swipes and taps, you can watch full-motion video at 180 degrees, panning and zooming as you please. Free.
iMovie: iMovie on the iPad is great for on-the-go movie editing. There’s support for gestures, an updated UI, templates and fully customisable transitions. Not to mention multitrack audio recording, Airplay compatibility and the ability to export movies in HD. $5.49.
Rdio: If you’re not familiar with Rdio, just know that it was our favourite streaming music app because of its combination of selection, social aspects and quality music apps. The iPad app doubles down on that with an easy way to check your friend’s activities, offers up gigantic in-your-face album artwork and has a music player that is clearly influenced by the stellar iPod app on the iPad. Subscription.
GarageBand: GarageBand for iPad is a no-brainer for any budding musician. It offers eight-track recording, over 250 loops, and it’s fully compatible with the Mac version of GarageBand. You get a load of virtual touch instruments too, and if you want, you can plug in your guitar and use the virtual amps. $5.49.
Korg iMS-20: A faithful reproduction of Korg’s MS-20 analogue synth, this is the app that will make your music-playing friend get the iPad. It’s proof of just how powerful the tablet can be as a music production machine. $34.99.
Sketchbook Pro: The challenge with drawing apps is packing the most features in the most accessible way possible. Sketchbook Pro walks that line, offering up enough stuff to keep real deal artists busy while making it easy enough for schlubs like me to enjoy. $5.49.
GoodPlayer: As awesome as VLC was before it got pulled from the App Store, GoodPlayer is pretty much the same thing. It can play pretty much any video file you throw at it without the silly need to convert them. There’s even Airplay support, and it has the option to stream movies from the web. $2.99.
Remote: With AirPlay, Apple’s signalled its intentions to not just sell you music and movies, but to let you move them around your house too. The official Apple Remote is a key piece of the puzzle, serving as a rich controller for iTunes or AppleTV. Free.
TED for iPad: How can you use your futuristic computing device to enrich yourself, as opposed to just, you know, distracting yourself? Settle in with the TED app, a slick portal for some of the most thought-provoking content the internet has to offer. Free.
Kindle: Even if you don’t have an actual Kindle, Amazon’s still the king of ebooks. Their iPad app lets you buy books from the vast Kindle library, and you can rest easy knowing that they’re on a platform that’s almost guaranteed to have some staying power. Free.
StreamToMe: The iPad doesn’t play nice with many file formats natively. Along with a server app you install on your main machine, StreamToMe will re-encode pretty much any video you throw at it on the fly and beam it to your iPad. Magnificent. $2.99.
Google Earth: You haven’t experienced Google Earth until you’ve experienced it on the iPad. Seamless swishing, flicking, pinching and zooming. Free.
The Daily: Overall, it’s probably the best iPad newspaper/magazine/multimedia experience/whatever to date. There’s a tremendous amount of high-quality content in a variety of sections, with sharp writing, beautiful photos and well-produced video sprinkled throughout. Subscription.
The Atavist: For some people, the iPad is the device with the potential to liberate long-form journalism from the distracting confines of the PC. It’s with that noble aim that the Atavist, an app that vends long-form, multimedia-enriched articles, was created, and it’s off to a promising start. $1.99-$2.99 per article.
Marvel Comics: Comic books for the 21st century. Marvel serves up its host of heroes in a slick, easy-to-read app. Issues can be purchased a la carte or gobbled up buffet-style with a digital subscription.
VinylLove: VinylLove is a music app that beautifully mimics a record player. You can thumb through alphabetised crates of records (the songs on your library), move the needle (to fast forward), and even hear the digitally added slight crackle and pops. There’s a history to that MP3! $0.99.
NASA Visualization Explorer: The NASA Visualization Explorer app brings a new topic from the space agency to your iPad each week. It’s chock full of images, videos and scientific information. From Polar studies based in Antarctica to the movement of marine deserts, you’ll get to see a side of NASA that doesn’t often make the front page news. Free.
Me and My: Designed and built by Aussie parents, Tokeru’s collage app lets kids create pictures of themselves and family members with beautiful paper cut-out dolls that’ll remind you of your scrapbooking days. $1.99.
Planetary: Planetary is an iPad-only music player that renders your music collection as a stunning universe of stars (artist), planets (albums), and moons (songs). It’s a totally new way to explore music and brilliantly executed. Everything looks great, responds to touch and filled with clever details. Free.
KCRW Music Mine: The KCRW Music Mine app is more about the music of KCRW, the best radio station in the world by the way, than listening to KCRW itself. You can access the music of a 100 different musicians and bands, handpicked by KCRW DJs and updated daily to match the KCRW on air playlists. Pick and play as you wish. Free.
Air Media Center: There are lots of media streamers for the iPad. What sets Air Media Center apart from the crowded streaming party is its ability to stream content with on-the-fly conversion turned off for higher-quality streams and price. $1.99.
Dijit: Control your fancy home theatre with your iPad. Not so fast there buddy. Before you get to downloading, you’ll need to purchase Griffin’s Beacon. But once you have them both, you’ll feel pretty powerful controlling everything from the same device you tweet cat pictures from. Free.
Sketchbook Ink: When Apple announced the new iPad back in March, it hyped some forthcoming apps on it too. One of those was Sketchbook Ink, which hit the App Store this week. It lets you can create full-colour drawings using your finger, and it’s optimised for that shiny new retina display. $1.99 (special introductory price).
Spotify: At long last, an iPad version of Spotify is finally available. In a clean, visual package, it gives you all the all of the familiar parts about Spotify you love, like music discovery, playlist creation and access to what your friends are listening to. Subscription.
Wikiweb: The Wikipedia app is fine for simple searching, but it does nothing for discovery — or for the eyes. Wikiweb visualises the connections between articles on everyone’s favourite online encyclopaedia as firework-like webs. The layout is lovely, and you just might learn something new. $5.49.
Echograph: GIFs are sharable, and it’s entertaining to send them back and forth between your friends, but many of the apps for making them are pretty low-quality. But not Echograph — with support for high-res images, it’s meant for creative folks and pro photographers. $4.49.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP: A game that’s an epic experience. One part 8-bit graphics, one part beautiful original music, one part adventure, and one part RPG combine for a game that’s essentially about exploring and brings your childlike wonder back. $5.49.
Labyrinth 2: Remember that game where you turn the knobs to navigate a little metal marble through a maze without letting it drop in any of the holes? Turns out that’s just as fun when there are no real knobs or marbles involved. Fun for both kids and kids at heart. $8.49.
Words With Friends HD: With its recent expansion into the wide world of Android, there have never been more friends to play against. Words With Friends looks its absolute best on the iPad, allowing you to survey the board like a general overlooking a battle field. $2.99.
Battleheart: RPGs are intimidating! But Battleheart is adorable and addictive with delicious graphics and a control scheme designed around poking, prodding and swiping. You control four characters and go on your RPG quest. $2.99.
World of Goo: The smash Wii Ware hit somehow makes even more sense on the iPad, like this is how it was meant to be played all along. Pure gooey physics fun. $5.49.
Osmos HD: One of the most, immersive, unique iPad games, Osmos makes cellular life captivatingly beautiful. $5.49.
Dead Space: A new, tablet-optimised extension of the popular console shooter series, Dead Space shows just how robust an iPad game can be. From the visual details to the spooky sound design, it’s got the full package. $9.49.
Infinity Blade: How good can an iPad game really look? Uh, check out Infinity Blade to find out. $6.49.
Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: The iPad’s big touchscreen breathes new life into the LucasArts classic, and its smart UI stays out of the way while you enjoy the puzzles, humour and animations you remember from way back when. $5.49.
Flight Control HD: It was one of the best games when the iPad came out and it still is — directing air traffic can quickly turn from meditation to mayhem. Both modes are fun. $5.49.
The Incident: 8-bit pixel revival at its finest, the Incident is at once retro and fresh, apocalyptic and hilarious. $1.99.
Tiny Tower: A free 8-bit style game that lets you channel your inner landlord. You build floors on a tower to attract “bitizens” to live in it and then control their lives (manage, hire, give a job, evict). It’s like SimCity but actually fun. Free.
W.E.L.D.E.R.: It’s a supremely addictive word puzzle game. Instead of filling in empty spaces with letters, you’re given a full slate of seemingly random letters already splayed across the board. The point of the game is to rearrange those letters into words. Score more points by connecting special letters and such. $0.99.
FlipShip: The most clever twist of FlipShip didn’t reveal itself to me until about a half-dozen rounds into this top-down shooter, I finished a game with a score of exactly zero. Then I realised that this game wasn’t predicated on twitch skills, but knowing, in an arcade sense, when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Or, in this case, when to flip ‘em. $0.99.
Frederic — Resurrection of Music: Play as Chopin as he battles for musical supremacy. To mix things up, Chopin’s masterpieces are transformed into electronic, reggae and spaghetti western songs. Music blasphemy? You won’t know until you play. $4.49.
Zombie Minesweeper: In real life the person who dawdles while playing Minesweeper must worry that their boss will catch them. In Zombie Minesweeper, the dawdling player must worry that the game’s suburban zombies will. $1.99.
Super Crossfire HD: You’ve got a ship that travels the bottom of the screen, endlessly firing at waves of enemy fighters intent on doing you harm. To destroy them you simply move back and forth, spraying them with pretty purple space bullets. Bright explosions fill the screen. $2.99.
NBA JAM: I was gonna have to go Ron Artest on EA if they bungled the iPad port of this classic, but thankfully they’ve turned out a excellent, faithful update of the original. “He’s on fire.” “Boomshakalaka.” Big head mode. It’s all there waiting for you. $7.49.
Polymer: Stretch your brain muscle a little bit with Polymer. It’s a smart puzzle app that’s a little bit Lego, a little bit Rubik’s Cube, offering heaps of different shape-creating games of varying levels of difficulty. $1.99.
Google Drive: If you’re using Google’s cloud storage system, you’ll definitely want to access your stuff from your iPad. You can now, thanks to the new iOS app released at I/O. Free.
Packing Pro: We’ve all been there — you go on holidays, you open your suitcase and realise you forgot to pack your underwear. This app will make sure you never do that, letting you make simple packing lists for all your excursions. $2.99.
Zite: It’s a personal magazine app that customises its content just for you. It learns what you like from your Google Reader and Twitter account and displays stories you’d probably enjoy reading. The app gets better the more you use it, as it becomes more familiar with your tendencies. Free.
Instapaper: Reading, it turns out, is just about the best thing you can do on this crazy futuristic tech-slab of yours. Instapaper strips all the web junk from the articles you come across and leaves you with the sweet, pure text. $5.49.
Reeder: Thanks to RSS feeds, you will never, ever run out of cool stuff to read. Reeder is the cleverest, prettiest way to sift through it all. $5.49.
Elements: An attractively sparse text editor for the iPad with a handful of features — like autosaving to the cloud via Dropbox — that set it apart. If you’re used to cumbersome, feature-soaked text editors like Word, Elements is a breath of fresh air. $5.49.
SimpleNote: SimpleNote is the longstanding holder of the minimalist note taking crown: It lets you take notes and keep them in sync across your iPad, iPhone, and the web reliably and simply with zero distractions. Free.
Dropbox: Wanna see what this “cloud” fuss is all about. Start dumping your files in Dropbox on your PC or Mac and watch them magically appear in the iPad app. It’s quick, it’s clean, it works, and it’s free.
Screens: VNC can get confusing, but Screens makes it dead simple. Turn internet sharing on on your Mac (or PC or Linux machine) and Screens will let you control it. You can even use all your favourite multitouch gestures. $20.99.
Pulse: So you like the idea of RSS — news coming to you, instead of you going to it — but don’t want to deal with adding feeds and endless lists of headlines. Pulse makes the whole thing visual, giving you swipeable columns and rows of stories and sources. Free.
PhotoSync: With Photosync, you don’t have to plug in your iPad to transfer photos and videos to and from your computer. It transfers your photos and videos wirelessly and is plenty fast. You could even swap photos from your iPhone to iPad too. $1.99.
iA Writer: Very possibly the best and most elegant text editor on the iPad. The typography is stellar and the interface is perfect for just writing as there’s no distracting autocorrection or scroll bars. There’s an added row for arrow keys and even a focus mode blurs everything but the three lines you’re working on. Syncs with Dropbox too. $0.99.
Ignition: It’s the best VNC app on the iPad. Ignition gives you pretty much control of your PC/Mac through your iPad. It’s speedy, refreshed with a clean UI, and lets you wake your computer up from anywhere in the world. $159.99.
iCab Mobile: The Safari browser is great and all, but iCab has a lot more features, like full-screen mode and tabs. Tabbed browsing on the iPad is absolutely necessary. $1.99.
Penultimate: Penultimate is a scratchpad for your iPad where you can handwrite quick notes with your finger. It’s as useful as using a pen and pad but so much slicker. You can print or email your handwritten notes too. $1.99.
HitPad: Hitpad is your explainer for all things going on in the world, or well, all things going on in the world according to the internet. It finds the current ‘trending topics’ and gives you the news, tweets, videos, web and photos about them. It’s a tidy and attractive app that keeps you up to date. $2.99.
Snapseed: Snapseed is a photo editor for the iPad with clever controls and snazzy textures and filters. The coolest part about Snapseed is how you use it though. You just select the effect or adjustment you want to make from the bottom bar and then cycle through the options with a vertical swipe and adjust your settings with a horizontal swipe. Free.
Wacom Bamboo Paper: It’s an iPad app that turns your iPad into a digital notebook (or sketchpad). Even without Wacom’s Bamboo stylus, your finger is perfectly suited for writing — it really does feel like ink is bleeding from your fingers (or stylus). Free.
Diigo Browser: It’s an iPad browser that looks and feels like Chrome. And since I use Chrome every single day, that’s a good thing! It has tabbed browsing, an incognito window and an omnibox (a shared box for typing in URLs and search terms) too. As close as you’ll get to Chrome on an iPad. Free.
Blogsy: It’s a blogging tool for your iPad, which means, it can replace your blog back end when you’re on the iPad. Why would you do that? Because Blogsy makes all the html formatting you need for blogging — bolding, italicising, linking and even adding pictures — a lot more iPad-friendly. $5.49.
Dolphin Browser HD: A web browser alternative that shines on the iPad. All the features you want: tabbed browsing, porn mode, full-screen browsing, gestures that can trigger actions, webzines that make websites look prettier, and a super-slick slidable sidebar for bookmarks. Free.
Google Search: It’s like Google Chrome on the iPad. No, really. This is probably one of the slickest apps on the iPad from Google. It has all the Google apps available in one spot and the the built-in browser is pretty much Chrome. You’re probably signed up for at least one Google service and the app is free, so check it out. Free.
Codea: It’s an app for writing software. Codea uses Lua as its programming language. A simple language that works perfectly on the iPad. The app includes example programs to learn or crib off of to help you build your own app. Intelligent auto-complete and in-line reference documentation could help you take the first steps to app-developing domination. $10.49.
MSI Afterburner: The app lets you overlock your PC from your iPhone or iPad. It all works over Wi-Fi and you get to monitor the temperature, voltage and fan speed and even tweak settings to overclock your PC. Free.
AntiCrop: It’s content-aware fill on your iPad. Well, it tries to be. It won’t work every time, but it’ll help fix those missing spots on most of your photos. $0.99.
WorldMate: If you travel a lot, it’s hard to keep track of all of your connections, hotels, flights and overall schedule. This app is a comprehensive tool that helps you manage your trips, with currency converters, tip calculators for different countries, local searches powered by Yelp, and itinerary sharing. It’s like a concierge on your tablet. Free.
National Parks by National Geographic: Doesn’t matter if it’s Glacier, Yellowstone, Zion or Yosemite, National Parks are awesome. This app, which just launched for the iPad, is an interactive guide to these wonderful places in the US. It can help you plan a trip or just give you a glimpse of a world unknown to you. Free.
The Atlantic: The Atlantic has finally merged all of its content into one app. It’s available for free. If you’re not a subscriber to The Atlantic magazine, you can still access all the website content in the app without paying a cent.
Luminance: What makes Luminance stand out in the increasingly crowded space of photo-editing apps is that it’s great at handling layers. Each effect — vignetting, tweaking exposure and white balance, etc — is a layer that you can re-arrange to see how the picture changes and delete to see how it looks without the effect. Editing like a pro. $0.99.
Speakeasy Cocktails: It’s a cocktails recipe book app that will transform the way you see, judge and drink cocktails. The info is on par with the best cocktail books. There’s a consistent narrative to the app, the chapters are set up to teach you the basics first and then branch out to show you each alcohol’s different recipes. You’ll learn to drink with it. $10.49.
NightStand HD: If you happen to dock your iPad next to your bed, you might be thinking, “Hey, this thing could probably make for a pretty beautiful clock.” You’re right! NightStand HD has a handful of beautiful clocks both analogue (looking) and digital. $1.99.
Epicurious: You like food, right? Epicurious has got tons of recipes presented in a nice, photo-friendly format. Show this to your mum to justify your iPad purchase. Free.
Wired: No one’s really made the slam dunk tablet magazine yet, but if you want to get a sense of how the magazine of the future might look, Wired’s leading the pack. Subscription.
Gravilux: Most people looked at the iPad and saw a device for creation or consumption. Scott Snibbe saw it as the perfect platform for interactive art. Gravilux, a whirling, touch-based gravity simulation, is addictively purposeless. $1.99.
New York Times for iPad: After a somewhat clunky start in the app world, NYT has put together a clean, content-packed tablet edition of its paper. Subscription.
IMDB: A recent facelift makes the mobile IMDB a significant enough improvement over the website to warrant inclusion — IMDB has all the movie information you could ever want, as well as trailers and showtimes for the here and now. Free.
CNN: There’s so much going on in the world right now that I keep my eyes glued and fingers pressed to the CNN app on the iPad. There’s breaking news, top stories and the clincher, at least for me, great videos of everything CNN covers. Free.
New Yorker: The first great iPad subscription: $5.99 a month or $59.99 a year. If you want the print and web version along with your iPad subscriptions, it’s only five bucks more at $64.99 a year. Subscription.
Adobe Eazel: Adobe Eazel works as a standalone paint application and also connects to Photoshop, sending images that get automagically scaled to whatever resolution you want. What’s especially cool is the five-finger interface, and the mixing of wet and dry paint for colour blending, with an engine that allows paint to dry over time, just like in real life. $2.99.
World War II Interactive for iPad: An entire app dedicated to the war to end all wars. You can follow the entire timeline of events, from what caused World War II to the Aftermath and everything in between. What’s especially great about World War II Interactive is that the app provides you with rare pictures and videos you’ve probably never seen before (unless of course, you’re a big WWII buff). $5.49.
Paprika: Built to handle recipes, the application has multiple views to help you see all of your recipes at once. Scroll through the steps, view large photos of the dish you’re making, and use the built-in web browser to scrub recipes from your favourite cooking and food sites. The app also helps you manage your grocery list and can turn your recipes into a shopping list so you can pick up what you need to cook the meal you’re planning. $5.49
Martha Stewart Cocktails: Martha takes you beyond the regular cocktail recipe app with how-to videos and the history of drinks. The app will create a shopping list for your boozy excursions and recipes have a space to add your own notes. Like how wasted you got on lemon drop champagne punch. $0.99.
Appetites’ Easy As Pie: What if all your meals were pie? No think about it. You’re thinking about it aren’t you. The Easy As Pie app has 19 pie recipes presented via how-to videos. With it, your pie-a-day dreams will become a reality. $1.99.
Fotopedia Japan: Japan is awesome. They have robots, anime, sushi, ramen and, according to the Fast and Furious people, are drifting cars all over the place. But I can’t afford to hop on a plane and visit the Land of the Rising Sun. Instead I can stare at the amazing photos in this Fotopedia app. If I do save up the money to visit, the app’s Trip Builder will help me plan where to go. Free.
Gilt Taste: Eating well is not cheap, but it feels so good. This app helps you cut the cost on your highbrow tastes by offering daily discounts on gourmet items, as well as recipe ideas from prominent chefs and food writers. Free.
Etsy: Whether you’re looking for some artisan beard oil or a vintage leather backpack, you can probably find it on Etsy using its new iPad app. It will also suggest sellers and items it thinks are particularly good and provide you with how-to videos you can beam to your TV using AirPlay. Free.
Dropcam: A few weeks ago we spent a few days following Franky the turtle crawling around a pet store on Dropcam. The video monitoring service/nanny cam now has an iPad app, which, thank god because that turtle is too damn entertaining. You can also watch other feeds, or if you have an actual Dropcam Camera, you can keep tabs on your own home or business. Free.
Butterball Cookbook Plus: How do you make a Christmas goose? This app has all the culinary know-how you need, complete with step-by-step voice controlled instructions. And once the holidays are done, it’ll give you recipes for the rest of the year. $5.49.