15 Best iPad Apps for Newbies (2012)

Got a shiny, new iPad or iPad Mini? The first thing you'll notice is that the tablet itself isn't all that exciting. It's the apps that make the iPad special. Here are 15 must-have apps.

ipad apps

Question: What makes your new iPad or iPad mini special?
Answer: The apps. Here are 15 worth checking out.

National Geographic

National Geographic

America's favorite magazine looks even better on the iPad (especially with Retina display) and costs only $20 for an annual subscription. In fact, the iPad is great for consuming all sorts of magazines. These digital versions offer much more than their print counterparts, such as interactive graphics, audio, video, and the latest online news. If National Geographic isn't your thing, check out these 10 popular iPad magazines.

iWork

iWork

Who says the iPad is a terrible content creation device? Just download the iWork suite or its individual apps (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) at $10-a-pop, and you'll be getting a ton of work done. For Microsoft Office lovers, there are some good Office-capable apps on the iPad, too. Here are some iPad tips and tricks for creating content.

Weather HD

Weather HD

One of the first apps you'll fire up in the morning will be Weather HD ($1), a wonderfully visual weather app showing what conditions (temperature highs and lows, humidity, wind, chance of precipitation) will be like in cities of your choosing. You can see a weekly or hourly forecast, as well as a quick view of all the cities. Even better, you can allow Weather HD to push weather updates about certain cities – although I recommend setting this up for only one city, otherwise you'll get inundated with updates.

Instapaper

Instapaper ($4) has been around for a while but never seems to get old. The app allows you to save a Web page in a superbly readable format for both multiple device access and offline access later. Offline access is especially important on the iPad, since the vast majority of iPads sold don't have cellular data capability. Apple has tried to imitate Instapaper with its Reading List feature built into iOS and Safari, but it's not as clean and manageable.

Dropbox

Dropbox

Cloud storage service, Dropbox, is a must-have app on your iPad. It's a free service (up to 18GB if you refer enough friends) for storing photos, documents and video in the cloud. You can upgrade to higher storage levels with a subscription fee. Sure, Apple's own iCloud attempts to mimic Dropbox – you know it's a good app when Apple tries to integrate similar functionality into iOS – but doesn't do nearly as good a job. Dropbox is a real and familiar file folder system that is accessible on multiple platforms. It is the data center of your online life.

Flipboard

Flipboard

First, a confession: I fell in love with Flipboard (free) when it first arrived on the iPad but, admittedly, don't use it much anymore. That's not to say others share the same experience. Flipboard brings the magic of flipping through digital pages. The app lets users create a personalized magazine full of content from social network newsfeeds, Web sites and other sources. After Facebook finally came out with an iPad app and other news sources refined content for the tablet, I ended up going directly to the source app. Casual content consumers, however, may prefer Flipboard's content-hub benefit and easy-on-the-eyes display.

IMDb

IMDb

In the old days, retail stores would rent VHS movies (and, later, DVDs). Customers would waste a good chunk of their evenings walking the aisles, browsing movie covers, asking teenage clerks for advice, and hoping a light would come on telling them that, yes, this is the movie to rent. Today, we do pretty much the same thing, watching preview after preview on our high-def television sets. Enter the free Internet Movie Database app for the iPad, or IMDb. The app lets you quickly access popular movie reviews, check out the actors, and read what people are saying – all at your fingertips.

TiVo Premier, HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu

TiVo Premier, HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu

Not only can the iPad help you pick a movie to rent, it also does an amazing job of playing movies and television shows. You can rent and buy movies straight from iTunes on the Videos app. If you have an at-home television service, such as TiVo Premier, HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu, and others, you can get an app that gives the iPad access to it. HBO's Game of Thrones looks a lot better on a big screen high-def television than on the 9.7-inch iPad, but the fact that I can catch the latest episode anywhere with my iPad and a data connection makes all the difference.

Facebook

Facebook

It took Facebook (free) until the fall of 2011 to come out with an official iPad app. That's a long time to be dragging your heels. Today, mobile devices such as the iPad have become one of the main ways users access Facebook. If you are a heavy Facebook user, this app is a must-have. But the geniuses at Facebook continue to treat mobile as a second-class citizen. In fact, Facebook only recently added "sharing" to its iOS app.

Tweetbot

Tweetbot

There are many Twitter apps lining the Apple App Store's virtual shelves. We're going with Tweetbot for Twitter ($3). With its multiple timeline feature and the ability to quickly switch between lists, this app stands above others for people who use Twitter throughout the day. If you're not such a big Twitter geek, you can get by with the basic Twitter app (free) built by the makers of the Twitter service.

AIM

AIM

The iPad with its big touch keyboard is a great instant messaging device. You can tap out short messages and responses with ease. I prefer AIM for iPad (free) because it makes conversations easy to manage. You can also chat directly with Facebook and Google Talk friends. Best of all, you can send instant messages to phones that support text messaging straight from a Wi-Fi-connected iPad.

GarageBand

GarageBand

If you've ever dreamed of being a rock star – really, who hasn't? – then you'll want to get GarageBand ($5), the awesome Apple app that turns your iPad into a music studio. Strum chords on an electric guitar, bang drums on an electric drum kit, play bass or the piano. You can create songs, share songs, have a jam session. Of course, it's not the real thing. Then again, you're not really a rock star.

iMovie

iMovie

Martin Scorsese. Steven Spielberg. Akira Kurosawa. You're not in their league. But you can still make cool short movies with Apple's iMovie app ($5) on the iPad. There are eight movie themes to choose from. You can add videos and photos from your library or shoot footage right into your timeline, as well as create a soundtrack from your music library. Every movie needs a promo trailer, and there are a dozen Hollywood-style movie trailers to choose from. Ready, set, action!

GoodReader

GoodReader

Playing games and watching movies on your iPad is all well and good, but sometimes you'll need to be a little more serious. GoodReader ($5) is one of the best PDF readers for the iPad – not only PDFs but just about anything. Even better, GoodReader lets you highlight text, take notes, record freehand drawings on a PDF file. CIOs who support iPads in the enterprise often require the GoodReader app. It's that good.

Angry Birds Star Wars

Angry Birds Star Wars

When news broke that George Lucas sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney for a whopping $4 billion, Star Wars geeks everywhere shuddered with excitement – and so did the makers of the popular game Angry Birds. They came out with Angry Birds Star Wars HD ($3) that pitted a light-saber wielding Luke Skywalker, a force-pushing Obi-Wan Kenobi, a blaster-firing Han Solo, and the mighty Chewbacca (in bird versions, of course) against Dark Side birds dressed up as stormtroopers and Darth Vader. Make sure you've got a few hours to spare because you won't want to put this game down. May the Force be with you.