10 Essential Free iPad Apps

There you are with that spiffy new iPad 2 you got for Christmas. You’ve downloaded Angry Birds, Infinity Blade, and Fruit Ninja and played them all until your fingers raw from swiping. Now what?

Well, you might want to consider the notion that your iPad is an excellent tool to get real work done. I know, work is a foreign idea at the moment, after all you are still basking in the afterglow of Christmas morning. Doing anything that even smells like work is as appealing as a root canal. Still, unless you are in the One Percent (chronically rich) or the Ten Percent (chronically unemployed) working is an inevitability. Your iPad can help. Here are 10 essential apps that no iPad should be without. What’s even better is that all are free!!!

WordWeb Dictionary: iOS5 comes with a built in dictionary that you can access from most apps, and it’s very good. There are times, however, when you need to look up a meaning or find the right word to best express yourself. You need a stand-alone dictionary and the one I like best is WordWeb.



WordWeb does not require Web access to define your words, it’s all built in the app (makes me wonder why it’s named WordWeb). Even those of you with 3G iPads will appreciate a few less Web queries chewing up you data limit. All 285,000 words and phrases are cross-referenced, offer multiple definitions when available, many have usage examples and audio pronunciation. And there are no ads! For those times when the word you seek isn’t in WordWeb’s database you can opt to go to another reference either on your iPad or on the web, if you’re connected.

Everyone needs a good dictionary and with WordWeb you have one.

PlainText: Maybe you have the notion to use your iPad to write that Great American Novel you’ve been tossing about in the back of your mind for the last ten years. Any writer will tell you that just getting the words out of your grey matter and into print is the biggest, and hardest step, and having a good writing tool readily available can be a huge help. Enter PlainText.



As the name implies, PlainText lets you produce plain text formatted documents simply and easily. Just open the app, name your document, and start typing away. It doesn’t get much easier than that. The app has DropBox integration (more on DropBox in a moment) which means your documents are always available. It also makes use of the built in dictionary I mentioned earlier. You can edit in full screen mode or keep you file listings handy on the side. Because the documents you produce are in plain text (an international document standard thee files of which usually sport the “.txt” suffix) any other text processor read and edit them, which makes it easy to share you missives.

The only downside is that PlainText is ad supported and the ads can be distracting. You can remove the ads for two bucks however.

DropBox: Before Apple created iCloud there was DropBox, the seemingly ubiquitous cloud service that anyone can get access to for free. DropBox is drop-dead simple to use, which is why it’s so popular. Get an account, log in, use it. Many apps, like PlainText, sport DropBox integration, meaning that you don’t have to do anything extra to save your documents, it happens automagically.



Each app has its own DropBox folder, so organization happens without you doing anything more than creating a document in your app of choice. And syncing between your devices happens by magic too. Type it in on your iPad, make corrections on your iPhone, print it out from your Mac or PC.

Even if you make use of iCloud, get DropBox.

Calculator Pro for iPad: One of the oddest decisions Apple has made about the iPad is to not include a calculator. Try and I might I can find no sense in that choice. I guess it doesn’t matter because, just as it is supposed in nature, the iOS environment abhors a vacuum. Calculator Pro for iPad is proof.

Calculator Pro

Calculator Pro

So close in function to the Calculator app on the iPhone, Calculator Pro gives you all the features you need in a basic calculator. In portrait orientation you get the standard arithmetic functions, in landscape mode the scientific functions appear. As I said, this is a basic app so no tape history, graphing, or other niceties.

Like many freebies Calculator Pro is ad supported. You can dump the ads by paying a buck, which will also get you some skins to make it look prettier.

iBooks: You’ve got an iPad with that big, gorgeous 10” screen, why wouldn’t want to read something on it? iBooks gets you access to all manner of books, from the latest best sellers to textbooks. You can also store and read PDFs. But that’s not all, iBooks will also read text to you a page at a time. iBooks also offers a sample of the books in its store, and the samples are substantial enough for you to get a good idea about the book’s content before you spend your cash.



Wanna read on the cheap? iBooks gives you access to boatloads of public domain books like Last of the Mohicans and The Time Machine, and now iBooks displays those freebie books in your library in nice looking covers.

I’m not sure why Apple doesn’t just include iBooks as a built in app like it does Newsstand. But it’s free and it’s a good app to have.

Weather Channel for iPad: This app has fallen in and out of favor with me. For a free app, it offers a lot of features. You get a 10-day forecast that’s pretty accurate from my experience, motion radar, the ability to keep track of several locations, and video forecasts. The iPhone app also includes a severe weather section, the iPad version doesn’t for some reason, though I could have sworn I’ve seen that feature on the iPad in earlier versions. You can, however, set the iPad version to send you a push alert whenever bad weather is about.


Weather Channel

Even with it’s finicky feature list The Weather Channel app will be the app you turn to time and again before heading out.

Pandora Radio: This one’s a slam-dunk. Who wouldn’t want his or her own private radio station that plays only the kind of music you like? Create a channel by selecting an artist or song and Pandora streams music that is similar to your selection to you. The app will display artist and song information while the tune is playing. If you like a song you can bookmark it or buy it from iTunes.


Pandora Radio

Pandora can play your channels in the background while you use other apps, and it uses the same controls as the built in music app, so there’s nothing else to figure out. The app is ad supported, and every so often a commercial will play, but so far none of the commercials have been obnoxious and the ads have been barely conspicuous.

As I said, Pandora Radio is a slam-dunk.

CNN: There are so many good news apps available it’s hard to pick just one, but if I had to it would have to be CNN. This app covers all the bases and it’s simple to use, nothing to set up. You get videos, excellent photos, well written articles, and reports from all over the world, all categorized for easy access. If there’s a special news event the app will stream it live. There’s even an option to save stories for reading while not connected to the net, a very convenient feature.

CNN for iPad

CNN for iPad

With CNN you’ll always have your finger on the pulse of news.

Words With Friends: All work and no play makes for a boring afternoon. But you often don’t have time to invest in puzzle games or shoot-em-ups. Words With Friends is a great way to put the hurt on friends, family, and strangers in between work sessions.

Words with Friends

Words With Friends

Similar to Scrabble, you try to create word on a virtual board for points while attempting to minimize your opponent’s ability to make words and score. It’s a turn based game, which is a good thing, you can take your time to respond and make your play. In fact, you can have up to twenty one-on-one games going at once. Words With Friends is just the right amount of distraction to keep a bit of fun in your busy life.

Adobe Photoshop Express: I’ve had my iPad2 for several months now and I have used its rear camera once. The iPad2 is just not the device I turn to when I want to take a photo. (I often recall the infamous photo of Spike Lee holding up his iPad 2 to photograph President Obama. How gauche! The Secret Service should have tackled him just on principle.) My iPhone is far better at that task, however, the iPad is better at post processing the photos I take with my iPhone by virtue of its relatively ginormous screen. So, I take pix with my iPhone and do any serious post processing on my iPad using Adobe Photoshop Express.

Photoshop express

Photoshop Express

This app gives you all the basic photo adjustment features like straightening, cropping and so on. It also adds a bit extra as well, like vignetting, black and white conversion, softening and more. True, there are many other apps that give you a broader list of features, but Photoshop Express makes it easy to turn so-so photos into stellar shots. Not bad for a freebie.

OK, that’s a wrap for this week and this year. Thank you for reading my columns and visiting The Mac Observer. I look forward to your visits and comments in the coming year and I wish you a happy and prosperous 2012.

More iPad freebies below with direct links.