The 11 apps every brand-new iPad needs first

Once you inhale that new-iPad smell, fire up the App Store and get these essential, must-have apps.

christmas ipad
Credit: Christopher Phin
Trick out your new toy

If under your Christmas tree you found a new iPad—regardless of whether or not you put it there yourself for yourself because you work hard dammit—then you’ll quickly find yourself wanting to add apps to it so that it becomes even more amazing. There are more than million in the App Store, however, so choosing which ones to get is a daunting task.

Or at least it would be, except by a happy coincidence you’ve found yourself here, where we recommend the apps that will really let your new iPad shine. Some of these apps will exist for the iPhone too but really make great use of the iPad’s bigger screen, some are terrific examples of what an iPad app can be, and some are just all-round awesome.

netflix
Netflix

Well, we say Netflix (free), but it could be Amazon Instant Video (free), HBO GO (free) or whatever video streaming service you like or are already signed up to. The point is just that the iPad—any iPad—is fantastic for watching movies, whether you’re whiling away a plane journey (or more likely an interminable wait in the departure lounge) with a movie, catching up on House of Cards in bed if you’re feeling sick, or just having something on in the kitchen while you work.

pages
Pages

If you actually want to get some work done, though, get Apple’s Pages ($9.99, but free with a new iPad). This works on iPhone and iPod touch too, but the iPad’s bigger screen really helps you be more productive, and the splitscreen feature on the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro work tremendously here, letting you write on the left of the screen while researching a topic in Safari on the right, say.

There are plenty of other word processors available, including the honestly-it’s-quite-good Microsoft Word (free, but requires Office 365 subscription to create or edit documents) or pared-down, Markdown-focused writing experiences such as iA Writer ($4.99) and Byword ($5.99).

imovie
iMovie

Given that movie editing used to be something that required tens of thousands of dollars of specialized hardware—and that for smeary standard-definition video—the fact that you can edit HD (or even 4K) footage on your new iPad for free is pretty amazing. You might not want to use iMovie ($4.99, but free with a new iPad) to cut a feature-length epic on your iPad—though it’s probably entirely possible—but as a way of splicing together a few clips of your cat being an idiot to share on YouTube, or creating a three-minute highlights reel of your vacation while sipping a Piña Colada by the pool with the express intention of making your friends on Facebook jealous, it’s quite marvelous.

fantastical for ipad
Fantastical for iPad

The built-in Calendar app is perfectly functional, but it’s little more than that. Fantastical ($4.99) not only makes better use of the screen so it’s easier to get an overview of your upcoming events, but it’s also vastly simpler to enter new events. Rather than laboriously tapping multiple different fields, you could write—or even dictate—something like “Pete’s soccer practice every Wednesday at 6pm /h” and a recurring event will be added to your Home calendar.

tweetbot ipad
Tweetbot

If you love Twitter as much as we do, you’ll love Tweetbot ($4.99). The free official Twitter app is fine, of course, and if you use it you get faster access to all of Twitter’s new features—which isn’t always a good thing, to be honest—but Tweetbot is just superb if you spend a lot of time on Twitter. For one thing it syncs where you are in your timeline across multiple devices (including the Mac version), has a great (optionally) automatic low-light dark mode, and has highly configurable and useful ways of muting keywords, hashtags, users and more so that you can keep your timeline as relevant as possible.

noteshelf
Noteshelf

Something about the iPad encourages you to think of it like a notebook, and though there’s no shortage of notebook apps for the iPad—honorable mentions here for Evernote (free, with in-app purchases) and Notability ($5.99)—Noteshelf ($7.99) is the one we’d recommend. It lets you mix handwriting, shapes, pictures, typed notes and audio, annotate PDFs, fill in forms and much more, and though it sounds like a silly thing to praise it for, we love how the ink looks when you’re sketching. It syncs with Evernote and works with Dropbox and Google Docs, makes it easy to organize and share your notes, and works with the Apple Pencil and loads of other smart styluses. Plus, we love that you can define your own paper types—we’ve used it to build blank magazine covers that we can sketch designs on, for example.

procreate
Procreate

Ah, but for an app that really lets a stylus shine, you want Procreate ($5.99). This natural media app is capable of creating some truly spectacular artworks (assuming you yourself are capable of creating them in the first place!), whether you work in pencil, ink, acrylic, pastel or almost anything you can think of. You don’t need to use a stylus with it, but that’s when it really comes alive, especially it’s it’s a smart stylus that adds pressure sensitivity. It can import photos, supports layers, and will export to Photoshop’s native PSD format. Seasoned artists will instantly be able to create wonderful pieces with Procreate, but if anything it’s even better for anyone who would like to try drawing and painting, since you won’t be worried about “wasting” paper and can undo mistakes.

pixelmator
Pixelmator

Filters apps such as VSCO (free, with in-app purchases) work great on the iPad too, but with that bigger canvas, you can, if you choose, get a bit more manual with your image editing—and Pixelmator ($4.99) is the app to do that.

Yes, you can just apply filters, and they can be pretty nice, but the real meat of Pixelmator is its Photoshop-like pixel-tweaking tools. You get sliders for various attributes and even curves to tweak, but even better, you can cover blemishes with a repair tool—even remove object entirely, which looks pretty magical—and comp different images together, painting out bits you don’t want from each. A hugely capable app, and one that only gets better when you add the precision and control of a smart stylus.

wwf together
WWF Together

We’ve included this app just because although it’s quite old WWF Together (free) remains a beautiful example of how you can use the iPad to tell stories in new and engaging ways. Think of it a bit like the 21st-century equivalent of a pop-up book; in introducing you to a range of species and the challenges they face, it uses playful interactive features that take advantage of everything the iPad can do to make its point more directly and intuitively than would be possible with a paragraph of text. Truly magical—and an important message, to boot.

osmos
Osmos

And talking of old apps that we still think are worth recommending, the only game we’re going to recommend on this list is Osmos ($4.99). Oh, there are much more traditionally pretty games available for the iPad—Asphalt 8: Airborne (free, with in-app purchase), say—and stalwart arcade titles like the perennially entertaining Plants vs. Zombies (free, with in-app purchase), but Osmos gets the nod in part because it’s a game that would be rubbish on PC or console, and partly just because it’s entirely lovely, with a wonderful soundtrack.

In it, you’re a floating mote whose only job is to absorb other motes and so grow bigger, but avoid being consumed by those bigger than you. You move by tapping the screen opposite to the direction you want to travel in, which causes you to expel a bit of yourself to propel you forward. If it sounds a bit nerdy and Newtonian, well, yes, we guess it is at one level, but it’s also a sweet and marvelous game you can spend hours in, sunk into an armchair with your iPad.

status board
Status Board

You will at some point put your shiny new iPad down, and when you do, you’ll probably catch yourself looking over at it and thinking what a shame it is that it’s not doing anything just now. Plenty of apps will turn your iPad into a clock, a screensaver-like scrolling list of tweets or a weather station, say, but Status Board (free) is brilliant not only because it can do all this, but it’s incredibly configurable so you can create boards that show exactly the information you want. There’s a range of built-in modules, but you can add third-party ones or even write your own if you have the chops.

Consider adding a charging point in your kitchen and by your armchair, say, and then every time you dock your iPad, launch Status Board and you get a hugely useful overview of the information that’s relevant to you. It can also output to TVs either over HDMI/VGA or wirelessly using AirPlay.