One of the best things about using an iPad is the great apps that we can run on it. There are excellent apps for just about any purpose you can think of. Better still, there are lots of great free apps for the iPad. Our Best Free iPad App of the Week posts celebrate these apps.
We’ve been doing this series for a little over a year now, so I thought it might be nice to do a bit of a rewind this week – and highlight the Top 25 best free iPad app picks for the last year or so. Needless to say, all of the selections for Best Free iPad App of the Week are great apps – but I’ve done my best here to select 25 that for me are the very best of the best of those choices.
I’ve listed the picks below by category, even though they don’t come out very evenly distributed amongst the categories. This is mostly due to the fact that I made my picks first and then sorted them into categories, so I wouldn’t try to fill up categories evenly just for the sake of it.
Hit the break for our first Top 25 Best Free iPad Apps list. The name of each app is linked to the original Best Free iPad of the Week post on it with full details and App Store links.
Khan Academy: One of the very best education apps for iPad I’ve seen. It boasts a library of over 2,700 videos with a simple, superb teaching style and covering a broad range of topics – from math and science to history and lots more.
Science 360 for iPad: A superb, fun, and beautifully done app full of strong content for those who enjoy science. The app is published by The National Science Foundation (NSF) and its content is a mixture of NSF-produced items and material gathered from scientists, universities, and NSF science and engineering centers.
TED: This is the official iPad app for the wonderful TED Talks – which are quite simply, and accurately, described as talks from some of the world’s most fascinating people. Speakers range from Bill Gates and other eminent figures in just about every field of human endeavor to Taylor Wilson, a teenager who built a nuclear fusion reactor. The variety of topics and speakers is enormous – the one consistent thing is that all these talks are riveting.
Smithsonian Channel for iPad: Another great entertaining and educational app – this one is a channel that is dedicated to television that explores the history of our planet, life and culture. The app is full of great video content across a wide range of topics. Some of the top-level categories covered include Air & Space, Culture, History, Science & Nature, and Kids. The Kids section is particularly good, especially if you have kids who love animals.
GuidePal Offline City Guides: This app is aimed at travellers and aspiring travellers – and has a lot to offer them. It’s a very nicely curated selection of highlights and travel tips for a good number of notable cities around the world. The app currently features 15 cities from The Americas, 29 from Europe, and another dozen or so from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia. Regardless of whether you’re an experienced traveler or a relative rookie, this app will give you great information on some of the world’s most interesting cities – and it should certainly leave you inspired to get out and see them.
Ascent: Commemorating Shuttle: A spectacular movie that serves as a look back on and tribute to the Space Shuttle program, produced by NASA. It offers the highest quality Space Shuttle launch imagery ever seen. Unscripted and superb commentary for the movie and the extra scenes is provided by the producer, Matt Melis and Kevin Burke. Melis is an aerospace engineer who has worked on the shuttle program for a good number of years, and Burke managed aspects of the acquisition and deployment of engineering launch imagery. If you have even the slightest interest in the Space Shuttle and space travel, or have kids who have interest, then you’re going to want to grab this awesome app.
NASA App HD: NASA’s first iPad app, and a stellar one that set the high standard all of their iPad apps have upheld. It’s tremendously well done; with lots of slick features, spectacular content, and a nice, simple interface to help you enjoy all of it. And of course it’s full of unique and compelling content.
The Design Museum Collection: The official app for The Design Museum in London – featuring 59 remarkable objects from the museum. I love the selections, which range from the classic, red telephone box to the Polaroid camera, the iMac and even an AK-47. There are video clips with thoughts and observations on these objects from a number of the leading figures behind The Design Museum, including Stephen Bayley, its Founding Director. The app itself has a minimalist and simple UI that rightly places all the focus on the objects from the collection.
Boeing Milestones: A fantastic collection of archive images and videos celebrating Boeing’s innovations and history in aviation and aerospace. I’ve often said that I enjoy a number of great ‘coffee table book’ type iPad apps and I love that this app is described as a digital coffee table book. The app features milestone moments and aircraft starting right from their very beginning and their first ever airplane in 1916. There’s some McDonnell Douglas history thrown in as well, as it was merged into Boeing in the late 1990s. Although the app is image heavy (full of superb aircraft images) and quite light on text, the small text blocks accompanying each image are full of fascinating details.
IntoNow: This is a really innovative and impressive app from Yahoo. It’s like the Shazam song identifier, but for TV programs – and with lots of nice social features thrown in. It’s another real ‘wow factor’ iPad app. Just as with the Shazam app for song identification, it’s pretty amazing to surf around your TV channels, then just tap the green button, see it listening and receiving info, and watch it identify perfectly the show or movie you’re watching. Or the football game or other sporting event you’re tuned into. It’s easy to share what your watching to Facebook, adding a comment with it or not. You can look for, add, and invite other friends from Twitter, Gmail, or your address book. And it’s actually quite cool to see what your friends are watching and even to look at the Everyone stream and see what’s popular.
Fandango Movies: There are a number of iPad and iOS apps that help you get information on movies playing nearby, but this is by far and away the best of them. It’s packed full of tons of great features and offers a great UI that makes it easy to do everything from finding the movies you want to see to booking your tickets for a showing. The app offers lots of trailers for most popular movies. They can be toggled to full screen and there’s support for AirPlay video, so you can view them on your HDTV if you have Apple TV. It’s easy to find local showtimes for all the movies currently playing in your area, and to buy tickets to collect when you arrive at the movie theater. If you’re even an occasional movie goer, this is an essential iPad app. It can help you see what’s on, make a good choice on what to see, and get your seats without the hassle of lining up for popular releases.
Vodio: A social videos app for the iPad that some have said is a bit like Flipboard for videos. Vodio presents you with a series of Channels covering popular video categories – these include Buzz (a sort of overall What’s Hot section), Music, Entertainment, Sports, Tech, and Comedy, and you can add more channels easily. The app lets you connect with some of your social accounts, to help personalize the content you’re seeing. You can connect to your YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. You can give a thumbs up or thumbs down to each video, and easily share a video to friends via email, Twitter, or Facebook. Of course the videos range from the sublime to the ridiculous – but there’s lots of great content to browse through and it’s an easy app to spend big chunks of time with.
Band of the Day: Described as the world’s first daily music magazine built solely for mobile devices. It features a new band or artist every day in its simple calendar-like UI. The pages for bands are superb – the sections for each band include Review, Bio, Buzz, Videos, and Albums, and of course the pages are gorgeous. The controls and navigation throughout the app always feels elegant and natural. Even the sharing button is a simple red + sign with a popout to share via Twitter, Facebook, or email. I love any app that can consistently help me to find great new music and Band of the Day fits the bill.
Groovebug: This is a beautiful app that lets you dive deeper into your own collection of music on the iPad and also discover new music along the way. It’s described as ‘a personalized media music magazine and discovery engine designed for the iPad’. For each artist / band in your music library the app offers these sections: Bio, Music, Videos, The Latest, and Similar Artists. Apart from its gorgeous layout and pages, another great thing about Groovebug is that it helps you get more enjoyment out of your music. It’s like sitting around with a bunch of really nicely done box-set type albums, all rolled into one – so you can learn more about artists you like, crank up videos and likely find some new stuff you like along the way as well.
NPR Music: NPR Music touts it as ‘your guide to new music’ and ‘love at first listen’. And happily, the app nicely lives up to those big promises. It offers a superb mix of music from a range of good genres, music news, articles, reviews, interviews, live concerts and exclusive streams and lots more. The app has a magazine-style layout that takes a little bit to get used to, but is quite nice and effective once you do. There’s a very good set of featured radio stations you can listen to in the app, covering genres like Rock, Jazz, Classical, Hip-Hop/R&B, Folk, World, and Electronic/Dance. The Programs section is full of cool programs like Song of the Day, Favorite Sessions (exclusive performances from public radio stations), Tiny Desk Concerts (musicians recorded live in the NPR music office), NPR Music Live (concert recordings from venues and festivals across the country), 50 Great Voices (stories of awe-inspiring voices from around the world) and more. Each of these offer a great opportunity to discover new music and artists. In fact there’s so much great stuff in this app that it’s easy to spend hours discovering new music or more in-depth content.
National Geographic Today: This app is from the National Geographic Society and offers a daily dose of the famously spectacular photos from National Geographic, and a lot more besides. The app offers to a blinds style view of the last seven days of daily photos and other content. You can also browse through the app in By Week and By Content views. The By Content view is divided into sections for Videos, Articles, Galleries, and Featured Photos. There are ‘Your Photos’ sections that are also full of great shots. If you’re a fan of National Geographic, or just a fan of great photography, you’re definitely going to want to give this app a look.
Fotopedia Heritage: A wonderful app that’s at once a superb travel guide and also a gorgeous photo book of some of the most stunning places on earth. It’s packed with 30,000 beautiful photos that will have you dreaming of trips you need to take to places all around the world. The sheer quantity of photos is impressive too – just as one quick example, there are over 3,100 images for Europe. The app’s interface is simple and nice to use. It’s easy to browse through photos by places / regions that interest you, to switch in and out of slideshow mode, and to toggle on and off the Point of Interest descriptions for each location. The descriptions are stellar by the way, provided by UNESCO and Wikipedia.
Utilities & Web
Dolphin Browser for iPad: A superb alternative browser app for the iPad. It’s touted as the world’s first gesture and webzine enabled browser for the iPad and iPhone – and both these features are very nicely executed in the app. There’s a speed dial feature for your favorite, most often visited sites – and sidebars that can be toggled visible and hidden with a quick swipe and offer easy access to the toolbar, bookmarks, browsing list and folders. Another nice little touch is that the app has a URL keyboard (with no spacebar, optimized for just entering a web address) and a default keyboard. My favorite feature is gestures – which let you create simple gestures to use to visit your favorite sites very quickly.
Chrome: Another excellent alternative iPad browser app. It’s the iPad version of Google’s super-fast and lovely browser. Sadly, it’s a little hamstrung by App Store policies but nonetheless it’s a great option if you’re a fan of Chrome on the desktop. It offers unlimited tabs, swipe-through tabs, the Chrome Omnibox (type a URL or search in one bar), and some slick privacy features. Best of all, if you’re a Chrome user on the desktop, you can sync open tabs, bookmarks, passwords and more from your PC to your iPad.
Airport Utility: One from Apple themselves. It’s an excellent utility app for managing your Apple-based wireless networks, routers, and wireless devices. It supports all Apple 802.11n Wi-Fi base stations, including AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and Time Capsule. It’s easy to use, great looking, and a very nice way to keep tabs on a home WiFi network.
Skype for iPad: The excellent and popular VOIP app for free calling and video calling to other Skype users. It took Skype a while to release an iPad app but once they did it was well worth the wait. I actually like the Skype iPad app better than their Mac app. The iPad app works with a WiFi or 3G connection and lets you send and receive video from the iPad 2’s front and back cameras. One of its nicest features is the ability to send and receive instant messages while you’re on a video call. This works really nicely. Of course the best thing about Skype for iPad, that makes it instantly far superior to FaceTime, is Skype’s cross-platform support. With this app you can speak to any Skype user – they don’t have to be on an iPad or an iPhone or even a Mac.
Evernote: An incredibly feature-rich and powerful note-taking app. It’s also a superb all-round storage bucket for important information since, as its name might suggest, one of the nicest things about Evernote is that it’s nearly ever-present. It’s available on the iPad, the iPhone, Mac and Windows PCs, and in most mainstream browsers. It has web clipping tools to make it easy to throw interesting things you spot on the web straight into an Evernote note. It’s also such a popular and well-respected app by now that numerous other apps now have hooks into it – so their content can be easily shared to Evernote too. It offers rich-text formatting on the iPad, audio notes, notes from photos, and has impressive OCR like features that allow you to search for words not only in text, but also in images.
PlainText: Plain Text – Dropbox Text Editing to give it its full App Store name. It’s a simple text editor app with a paper-like interface that has just a small number of great features that make it an absolute pleasure to use. In other words, the app does not offer a lot of unnecessary and distracting bells and whistles, but it does provide a number of key features that create an effective and attractive writing environment. The paper-like UI is lovely to work with. The off-white page color for notes and the very light grey for the sidebar are perfectly muted and very easy on the eyes even when spending a long time working in the app. It’s easy to toggle to full-screen mode for even more writing focus with just one tap, and toggle back with a single tap as well. It’s also just a single tap to create a new folder or a new document, and to rename a document. It also has superb Dropbox sync – not only is it automatic and effortless (no onus on the user to do anything but turn it on one time in settings) but it is genuinely instant.
Flipboard: The absolute standard for news apps on the iPad. It’s a past choice as Apple’s iPad of the Year and one of TIME Magazine’s Top 50 Innovations. Flipboard is considered a flagship iPad app for good reason. Many iPad apps have tried to serve up news in a magazine style and make it social and personal and easily customizable. Many of them have done this quite well – but none as well as Flipboard. From the moment you open the app you feel like you’re browsing a great magazine – the images are gorgeous and striking, the typography is superb, it reeks great design right off the bat and throughout the app. Everything about the app is intuitive and dead simple to work with – from choosing your content sections to arranging which order they appear in, to sharing items you like via Twitter, Facebook, an email. You can also save articles via Instapaper or Pocket.
USA Today for iPad: This is one of the very first newspapers with an iPad edition, that has been in the iPad App Store since the day it opened back in April 2010. It may not be the weightiest of newspapers and it’s not going to replace The Washington Post (or papers of that ilk) for those who want heavy, in-depth coverage – but it is a great iPad edition with a lot of excellent features. It’s the most iPad-friendly, interactive newspaper title I’ve seen so far. The UI and navigation in the app are just excellent. Everything you want to get to is just a tap or two away from its front page. It’s got strong Tech and Sports sections, and lets you personalize the weather and sports updates you see on its home page.
That’s it for our first Top 25 list of the best of the best free iPad apps of the week choices. I hope it may serve as a good resource for some of you who haven’t followed the series before or haven’t always kept up with it. I also hope you’ll share your thoughts on the list in the comments – let me know which picks you agree and disagree with, and any apps you think should’ve been included.
If you’re after more great free iPad apps, be sure to check out our previous choices for Best Free iPad of the Week. We’ve been doing these for over a year now.