The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show is in full swing and guess what the hottest gadget is this year?
Since Apple introduced the iPad a year ago every major computing company has been scrambling to bring something to compete with it to the market. And well they should. The iPad is a category-defining device that many scoffed at when it was first announced. It was called a big iPhone without the phone, a netbook wannabe, too underpowered to replace a laptop, too bulky to fit into pockets, and pundits openly wondered where such a device would fit in.
12 million iPads later no one seems to care where it fits in anymore, it just does. It’s an ebook reader almost as good as the Kindle and Nook (reading in direct sunlight is the iPad’s only problem), it’s a gaming device almost as good as Sony’s PSP (some would argue that it’s far better than the PSP), it’s a personal movie theater, it’s a…well, you get the idea. And so do other gadget makers. So 2011 will be the year of the tablet. (Please ignore the people hawking 3D TVs, it’s a still-born fad.)
While others wait to see which of the new devices seem worthy of their time and money, or patiently wait for iPad 2, the rest of us are iPadding away and not looking back. If you are new to the iPad crowd, (you got one for Christmas, you got one of the wireless deals offered by Verizon or AT&T, or maybe you decided you’ve been financially responsible over the past year or so and deserve a technology update) then you’ll be wanting some good apps, preferably free apps. Well, you’ve come to the right place.
Normally in this weekly column I take a look at a handful of free apps, shows, movies, and tunes available from Apple’s iTunes and App Stores, but this, being the first column of the new year, it seems only right that I list a bunch of my favorite freebie apps, stuff no iPad should be without.
So, without further ado, I present to you my Top 10 Must-Have iPad Freebies.
Calculator Pro for iPad Free: It seems odd that Apple chose to not include a calculator with the iPad. It couldn’t have been hard to update the iPhone’s stellar calculator to play well on the iPad’s larger screen. Oh well, no worries. There’s Calculator Pro for iPad Free. If you’ve used the calculator on the iPhone then you already know how to use Calculator Pro for iPad Free on the iPad.
In portrait orientation you’re presented with a standard calculator, in landscape you get higher math and trigonometric functions. The app’s appearance is not distracting, the keys are big enough, but not too big, and, most importantly, it works.
It does have an annoying pop-up asking you to upgrade when you start the app, so be warned.
If you want an enhanced featured calc that includes a tape record of you numerical musings then I recommend EZ-Digits HD Calculator, which can be had for a buck. I have EZ-Digits HD on my iPad, but for a basic calc, Calculator Pro for iPad Free fits the bill.
TWC Max+: I actually have two weather apps on my iPad; TWC Max+ and WeatherBug HD. They each have features that I like that I can’t get in the other. Of the two, however, TWC Max+ is the one I go to more.
TWC Max + offers a fairly accurate 10-day forecast, customizable motion radar, video forecasts and more in a nice package. It’s ad supported, but the ads aren’t obnoxious.
iBooks/Kindle/Nook/Kobo: It’s unfortunate that we can’t get one ebook app that can access any virtual bookstore. Alas, that just ain’t gonna happen. So we, the consumer, must browse through different stores in different apps to find what we want to read.
Each of these ebook apps offers something different, and because they are apps and not dedicated devices, shopping for reading material is easier, and a bit more varied. And you should shop. No one ebook outlet offers every available ebook, and while prices are competitive, you may find a bargain in one store that could save you a few bucks.
The only drawback is that you now have to remember in which app does the book you’re currently reading resides.
Ah well, at least the apps are all free.
ABC Player: I’m still waiting for other TV networks to follow ABC’s lead and offer an app that lets you watch current episodes of popular TV shows on your iPad. So far, only HGTV offers a similar app, but, while I’m not holding my breath, I’m hopeful that more will come as more iPad and other tablet users come online.
ABC Player is cool on so many levels. It offers a list of past and present ABC shows that you can watch instantly on your iPad. There are commercials, but I don’t care. I like being able to watch what I want, when I want to.
The Citadel: It’s a show piece, I’ll admit, but it looks so darn good that you’ll want to show it to anyone willing to look.
The Citadel lets you explore an uninhabited castle and town and shows off Epic Unreal Gaming Engine. It’s a beautiful environment with flags and trees waving in the breeze, building that look at once inviting and foreboding, and more nooks and crannies than an english muffin.
Dropbox lets you sync all manner of documents to the Dropbox cloud. It’s done securely and without fuss from within compatible apps. If you don’t happen to be connected to the Internet at the moment, no worries, Dropbox will sync at the next connection.
You need to get a Dropbox account and you can buy more space if you need it, but the app and basic account is free. This is how syncing is suppose to work (Apple!).
PBS for iPad: If you watch any Public Television then you need to get PBS for iPad. Not only do you get to watch episodes of your favorite PBS shows, like NOVA, Nature, Masterpiece Theater, but you get local show schedules, previews of upcoming shows, and much more.
It’s a great looking app that’s easy to use and it’s hard to believe it’s free.
TED: The Technology, Entertainment, and Design conferences are absolute must sees for anyone feeling a bit jaded about his or her fellow human. (After dealing with shopping malls during the Holiday buying season all of us likely feel this way.)
TED showcases some the brightest ideas presented by some of the most fascinating people. It’s a way of seeing what others are doing to make a real difference in our world. Watch a few episodes and you’ll come away thinking there might be some hope for us, as a species, after all.
Vevo HD: Back in the day everyone wanted their MTV. Now, if you want to be seen on the music scene then your video must be in Vevo.
Vevo HD offers up the latest music videos on demand. It is a relatively new app and it just might give the music video industry a much needed shot in the arm.
Watch you favorite vids and buy the ones you want to keep. It’s a great way to keep up with the latest music trends, and the videos are always fun to watch.
International Herald Tribune: It’s the global edition of the New York Times and it’s a must-have for news hounds.
You get full articles with riveting photos of world events. It’s easy to navigate and it lets you read articles offline once they are updated.
There are ads, but they are easy to ignore, or, if you are interested, easy to read more about what’s being advertised.
This is my favorite global news source. I think you’ll see why.
Well, there you have it. Ten ( or so) apps that no iPad should be without. Are there others? Sure. USA Today for iPad, Stanza, Slate Magazine, Can Knockdown, Pandora Radio, Discover-Wikipedia Magazine, and more are available for free.
I’ll explore more freebies next week, so stop back by.
Happy New Year!