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In the past days, I’ve gotten the same question twice: what are some of the best iPad apps? Now, many years back when I used to do scores of software reviews for PDAs and mobile phones, this would be something that I could “somewhat” easily answer (given the aims the person wanted to use a device for, the capabilities of a device, and any budget constraints). I’m less inclined to try scores and scores of apps on my iPad, and therefore my usage of it doesn’t really lend itself to answering the question of what’s the best app for it. I can say though, if you were to take the perspective that the iPad is a blank canvas, then you can evolve into a kind of use that does make sense, and keeps you in the right perspectives of computing and life.

Of course, part of that evolving use (at least for the iPad) does include some measure of apps. Here’s the answer that I’ve given to those folks who recently asked me about apps I use/best apps:

– Evernote: free, but I upgraded to the premium so that I could upload more per month; able to use for notepad replacement, also can do embedded images and has a voice recorder function (I wonder if the iPad 2 does video, that would be neat)
– Adobe Ideas: $5; that’s the app I use for the sketchnotes. Really handy, exports to PDF and JPG
– Tactilis: free; another drawing app; I use this for handwritten notes and sketch-oriented wireframes. 

Both of the above I can import via email or the app into Evernote which comes in handy

Mindjet for mind mapping

Textastic for HTML editing, it also connects to (s)FTP and Dropbox accounts
Good Reader: best PDF reader, does annotations (so you can sign documents and then send them back to folks), connects to Dropbox, WebDAV and a ton of other servers
Penultimate is a new drawing notebook I am looking at; seems to work best with a stylus, but connects really easily to Dropbox and Evernote

The rest I have includes, Idea Flight, Prezi Viewer, Go to Meeting, LogMeIn, Flipboard, Join.Me, and a few others. I have one page of apps, and they all sit in folders on the dock. I keep it real simple so that I can stay focused on here. As a matter of fact, I only do email on the iPad, I moved from doing it on my phone as I normally want to be more relaxed when replying.

As you can probably discern from that quote, I don’t have a lot of apps on my iPad. And the apps that I do have have to do with stitching content together, creating experiences, or getting a window into computing from a collaborative viewpoint. Nothing really dramatic about it, but the route that I’ve done this is different than some:

  • My inital uses of the iPad centered on reading. I stuck to the browser (Google Reader), the Kindle app (am now using Kindle Cloud Reader), and Good Reader for PDFs
  • Once I got comfortable there, I moved to doing light email – and as I say above, I now do all email on my iPad (I don’t get so much email that it matters that I need to see it on my mobile when it comes in).
  • After email, I went next to reading more indepth pieces, specalized magazines like photomags from National Geographic and content heavy pieces from the Economist have been excellent. Flipboard came into the equation here as well as this took my Google Reader and Twitter reading/contributing into that same reading paradigm
  • And then I went into doing more creative items with the drawing and HTML prototyping.

I don’t see a need for a lot of applications which might be deemed normal by some. In fact, when I upgraded to iOS 5, I didn’t even both to put back on Kindle, any Bible app, and several magazine apps (most of which had no refereshed content or had a sucky UX).

As I tweeted about this morning, I do think that some features of the iPad’s UI need considerable work so that it can be better usable as I am using it. The user interface for the web browser doesn’t fit the gesture or size metaphor of the iPad one bit. The single-process/tasking nature of iOS also doesn’t lend itself well for heavy sessions of multiple tabs open, with copying and linking happening into another app like Evernote. I’d love to see an app like Scrivener make it to the iPad (it would probably replace Evernote if it did; hint, hint Evernote needs to purchase this and integrate it into the iPad/tablet UX space like now). I’d also love to see a hardware evolution of the iPad where the screen gave a bit of haptic or electrostatic feedback – because there’s no reason that in a screen this large that it should feel like pictures under glass in every interactive event.

I do debate getting rid of the iPad. There’s much that I am doing here that could be dulplcated (battery life and some UI/UX issues notwithstanding) on my current mobile. If my mobile had a Microsoft Kinect-like interactive projector system to it, it would make the tablet of no real need at all. That said, Apple has done a heck of a job with a (mostly) stable tablet and use experience. I don’t mind that I’ve gotten back into tablets at this point, even though my evolving knowledge of tools and skills means that I do want to take part in something that evolves with me a bit more.

Now, imagine that one. What if the hardware and software of a tablet could evolve with how you learn to use it. It could be some interesting stuff… or just an acceptance of another sweet computing paradigm.

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