The Brainstormer is designed to spark ideas when you’re working on a story. In its default state, it’s something of a visual oddity, with three wheels that you spin for a random set-up of plot/conflict, theme/setting, and subject/location. Individual wheels can be locked, and you can swap the wheels for a ‘slot machine’ interface if you prefer.
Although that might seem a bit gimmicky, The Brainstormer can be genuinely useful if you need a little nudge to get going. Also, the app is extensible, vastly broadening its scope. You can buy additional wheels via IAP, such as creature and world builders.
You can also directly edit existing wheels, or create your own from scratch. When you’re fresh out of ideas, a couple of bucks for endless new ones could be a bargain buy that sends you on your way to a best-seller.
Thinkrolls Kings & Queens ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Thinkrolls Kings & Queens is a set of logic and physics tests for children disguised as a game.
Like other Thinkrolls titles, it involves rotund protagonists working their way to the bottom of a series of blocky towers. Their way is regularly barred by various elements that must be successfully manipulated to fashion a way onward.
For example, gears and racks might need combining to create a conveyor belt, or a mirror shifted to reflect light and remove a ghost.
It’s all clever stuff, and also broadly stress-free. There are no time limits at all, and multiple profiles can be set up to cater for several kids on a single device.
And although Kings & Queens is intended for kids between five and eight years old, the interface and design is such that younger children should be able to delve into the adventure, too – albeit perhaps with supervision to initially help them understand the trickier challenges.
CARROT Weather ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
CARROT Weather is a weather app helmed by a HAL-like artificial intelligence that hates humans. As you check whether it’ll be sunny at the weekend, or if you’ll be caught in a deluge should you venture outside, CARROT will helpfully call you a ‘meatbag’ and pepper its forecasts with snark.
That probably sounds like a throwaway gimmick, but it’s actually a lot of fun – adding color and personality to a kind of app usually devoid of both. Most importantly, though, CARROT Weather is a really good weather app.
The forecasts are clearly displayed, the interface is superb, and the Today view widget is one of the best around. There’s even an amusing mini-game for finding ‘collectable’ hidden locations.
There are some downsides: the rainfall/cloud maps are weak, and there are no notifications. But if you’re bored of the straight-laced, dull competition, and fancy a weather app that’s informative and entertaining, CARROT Weather’s well worth the outlay.
Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Safari ($0.99/99p/AU$1.49)
Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Safari is an entertaining digital take on those children’s games where you create weird and wonderful (and occasionally terrifying) creatures by combining different body parts. Here, you get tops and bottoms to swipe between, in order to construct the likes of a ‘zeboceros’ or ‘crocingo’.
Each animal is nicely illustrated and comes with two verses of text, which the app can optionally read aloud. Also, note you don’t have to create strange new animals – you can instead match halves to make normal ones.
Perfect for when your resident tiny person is getting a bit perplexed at seeing a grinning elephant propped up by a spindly pair of flamingo legs.
Affinity Photo ($29.99/£28.99/AU$46.99)
Affinity Photo is the kind of app that should extinguish any lingering doubt regarding the iPad’s suitability as a platform for creative professionals. In essence, the app brings the entirety of Serif’s desktop Photoshop rival (also called Affinity Photo) to Apple’s tablet, and carefully reimagines the interface for touch.
You’ll need at least an iPad Air 2 to run the app, but an iPad Pro for best performance. Then also armed with a digit and/or Apple Pencil, you can delve into a huge range of features for pro-level image editing, creation and retouching.
The live filters and liquify tools are particularly impressive, responding in real-time as you work on adjustments, and make for a surprisingly tactile editing experience. But really pretty much everything’s great here for anyone who wants properly high-end photo editing on their iPad.
There are full-on screenwriting tools for iPad, such as Final Draft, but Untitled is more like a smart notepad – an app for a first draft until you feel ready for, um, Final Draft.
You jot down ideas, and don’t worry about formatting – because the app deals with that. In some cases, it does so automatically – write “Inside TechRadar HQ at midday” and Untitled will convert it to “INT: TECHRADAR HQ – MIDDAY” in the full preview (which can be exported to PDF or HTML).
For dialogue, place the character’s name above whatever they’re saying and Untitled correctly lays everything out.
Some other formatting needs you to remember the odd character — ‘>’ before a transition and ‘.’ before a shot. But that’s not too heavy on the brain, leaving you plenty of headspace to craft your Hollywood breakthrough.
With visible pixels essentially eradicated from modern mobile device screens, it’s amusing to see retro-style pixel art stubbornly clinging on.
But chunky pixels are a pleasing aesthetic, evoking nostalgia, and you know thought’s gone into the placement of every dot. Pixaki is an iPad pixel art ‘studio’, ideal for illustrators, games designers, and animators.
At its most minimal, the interface shows your canvas and some tool icons: pencil; eraser; fill; shapes; select; color picker. But there are also slide-in panels for layers/palettes, and the frame-based animation system.
Bar a slightly awkward selection/move process, workflow is sleek and efficient (not least with the superb fill tool, which optionally works non-contiguously across multiple layers), and the app has robust, flexible import and export options.
Perhaps most importantly, Pixaki’s just really nice to use – more so than crafting similar art on a PC or Mac, and although pricey it’s worth the money for anyone serious about pixel art.
There are quite a few dictionary apps on iPad, and most of them don’t tend to stray much from paper-based tomes, save adding a search function. LookUp has a more colorful way of thinking, primarily with its entry screen. This features rows of illustrated cards, each of which houses an interesting word you can discover more about with a tap.
The app is elsewhere a mite more conventional – you can type in a word to confirm a spelling, and access its meaning, etymology, and Wikipedia entry.
The app’s lack of speed and customization means it likely won’t be a writer’s first port of call when working – but it is an interesting app for anyone fascinated by language, allowing you to explore words and their histories in rather more relaxed circumstances.
Audiobus 3 ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
There are so many amazing music-making apps on iPad that it’s hard to choose between them. With Audiobus 3, you sort of don’t have to, because it acts as a kind of behind-the-scenes plumbing.
Virtual cabling might not sound sexy, but it hugely boosts creative potential. You can send live audio or MIDI data between apps and through effects, mix the various channels, and then send the entire output to the likes of GarageBand.
Much of these features are new to Audiobus 3, and this latest update also adds Audio Unit support, enabling you to open some synths and effects directly in the app.
With support for over 900 iOS products in all, Audiobus 3 is an essential buy for anyone serious about creating music on an iPad.
Redshift Pro ($19.99/£19.99/AU$30.99)
The ‘pro’ bit in Redshift Pro’s name is rather important, because this astronomy app is very much geared at the enthusiast. It dispenses with the gimmickry seen in some competing apps, and is instead packed with a ton of features, including an explorable planetarium, an observation planner and sky diary, 3D models of the planetary bodies, simulations, and even the means to control a telescope.
Although more workmanlike than pretty, the app does the business when you’re zooming through the heavens, on a 3D journey to a body of choice, or just lazily browsing whatever you’d be staring at in the night sky if your ceiling wasn’t in the way.
And if it all feels a bit rich, the developer has you covered with the slightly cut down – but still impressive – Redshift, for half the outlay.
Billing itself as a kind of 3D sketchbook, isolad is designed for people who want to quickly draw isometric artwork. Its toolset is simple – you get a line tool for connecting magnetic dots, a shape fill tool, undo, panning and zooming.
That might sound reductive, but isolad’s straightforward nature means anyone can have a crack at doodling the next Monument Valley, and you end up focusing more on what you’re creating rather than being deluged by a load of tools you’ll never use.
Future updates promise the addition of selections and layers, but for now isolad’s elegant simplicity is enough to make it a winning app.
djay Pro ($19.99/£19.99/AU$30.99)
If you’re the kind of person who likes spinning virtual decks, you’ll tell right away with djay Pro that you have in your hands something special. On the iPad – and especially on an iPad Pro – the app has room to breathe, lining up all kinds of features for being creative when playing other people’s music.
You get four-deck mixing, a sampler, varied waveform layouts, and useful DJ tools like cue points and beat-matching. There are also 70 keyboard shortcuts for quickly getting at important features, such as matching keys and adjusting levels.
For a newcomer, it’s perhaps overkill, and the similarly impressive djay 2 is cheaper. But if you’ve got the cash, djay Pro is a best-in-class app suitable for everyone – right up to jobbing DJs.
Reasoning that sketchbooks aren’t complicated, and so nor should your iPad be, Linea offers a friendly approach to digital sketching. The main interface puts all of the app’s tools within easy reach – colors on the left, and layers and brushes on the right. Scribble nearby and they get out of the way, or you can invoke full-screen with a tap.
There’s Pencil support, but no pressure sensing by other means. Also, although some of the pens offer blend modes, the end result still looks quite digital rather than realistic. Even so, Linea’s straightforwardness and smart design tends to make it a joy to use, even if the app lacks the range of some of its contemporaries.
On iPhone, Hipstamatic lets you switch between a virtual retro camera and a sleek modern camera app. On iPad, it all goes a bit weird, with the former option giving you a camera floating in space, and the latter making you wonder why you’d use a tablet for taking snaps.
But Hipstamatic nonetheless gets a recommendation on the basis of other things it does. Load an image from your Camera Roll, and you can delve into Hipstamatic’s editor. If you’re in a hurry, select a predefined style – Vintage; Cinematic; Blogger – and export.
Should you fancy a bit more fine-tuning, you can experiment with lenses, film, and flashes. And plenty of other adjustments are available, too, such as cropping, vignettes, curves, and a really nice depth of field effect.
Duet Display ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
If your iPad’s sitting around doing nothing while you work on a Mac or PC, Duet Display can turn it into a handy second screen for your desktop or notebook.
You fire up the app on your iPad and a companion app on your computer, and connect the two devices using a cable – like it’s 2005 or something. Minimalist fetishists might grumble, but a wired connection means there’s almost no lag – even when using Duet Display’s highest detail settings and frame rates.
With macOS Sierra, you also get one extra goodie: a virtual Touch Bar. So you needn’t splash out on a brand-new MacBook Pro to check out Apple’s latest interface innovation – you can use Duet Display instead.
KORG iWAVESTATION ($29.99/£28.99/AU$46.99)
It’s fair to say that the original WAVESTATION was one of the weirder synths that showed up in the 1990s. It worked by combining and sequencing multiple waveforms, allowing you to morph and mix what you heard by twiddling a joystick. The result was a synth where you could conceivably fashion an engaging loop simply by holding down a single key.
As ever, the digital recreation is authentic, but KORG iWAVESTATION adds further smarts by way of enabling editing of sounds through the touchscreen. You also get a delightful pad-based controller option for tapping out sounds.
There are some drawbacks, though, in this not being the most intuitive of synths to dig deep into, and the morphing joystick not being available on all screens.
However, if you want an iPad synth that sounds like nothing else out there, and with a huge library of noises to explore, iWAVESTATION is an excellent choice.
There are plenty of apps out there that attempt to transform images into something that might once have appeared on the screen of an ancient piece of computer hardware, but none match Retrospecs.
You either take a photo or load an image from your iPad and then select a preset. You get everything from the chunky character-oriented Commodore PET, through to relatively powerful fare such as the detailed 16-bit graphics of the SNES and Atari ST.
From an authenticity standpoint, Retrospecs wins out, but the app also affords plenty of tweaking potential. You can switch modes for those machines that offered multiple resolutions, choose alternate dither patterns, and adjust contrast, vibrancy, and other settings. Best of all, you can use any of the existing presets as the basis for your own unique slice of retro-filter joy.
iA Writer ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
iA Writer provides a writing environment suitably focused for iPad, but that also makes nods to the desktop.
The main screen is smartly designed, with a custom keyboard bar offering Markdown and navigation buttons; if you’re using a mechanical keyboard, standard shortcuts are supported.
Further focus comes by way of a typewriter mode (auto-scrolling to the area you’re editing) and graying out lines other than the one you’re working on.
Elsewhere, you get an optional live character count, iCloud sync, and a robust Markdown preview. We’d like to see a split-screen mode for the last of those (as per the Mac version), but otherwise iA Writer’s a solid, effective and affordable minimal writing app for iPad.
Jamie Oliver’s Ultimate Recipes ($6.99/£6.99/AU$10.99)
We’re not sure what makes this edition of the famous mockney chef’s recipe book ‘ultimate’, bar that word being very clearly written on the icon.
Still, Jamie Oliver’s Ultimate Recipes is certainly a very tasty app. The 600 recipes should satisfy any given mood, whether you’re after a sickeningly healthy salad or fancy binging on ALL THE SUGAR until your teeth scream for mercy.
Smartly, every recipe offers step-by-step photos, so you can see how badly you’re going wrong at any point. And when you’ve nearly burned down the kitchen, given up and ordered a pizza, you can watch the two hours of videos that reportedly tell you how to «become a real kitchen ninja».
Note: this doesn’t involve wearing lots of black and hurling sharp objects at walls, sadly.
So, you’ve picked up an iPad synth to compose music, play live, or bound about like a maniac, pretending you’re on stage at Glastonbury. Fortunately, Poison-202 is ideal for all such sets of circumstances.
The moody black and red graphic design is very 1990s, but it’s Poison-202’s sounds that hurl you back to the halcyon days of electronic music. Aficionados of The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Orbital will be overjoyed at the familiar (and brilliant) sounds you can conjure up simply by selecting presets and prodding a few keys.
And if you’re not satisfied by the creator’s (frankly awesome) sound design smarts (in which case, we glare at you with the menace of a thousand Keith Flints), all manner of sliders and dials enable you to create your own wall-wobbling bass and ear-searing leads.
There are iPad synths that have more ambition, and many are more authentic to classic hardware; but few are more fun.
Zen Brush 2 ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Rather than be all things to all people, Zen Brush 2 is a painting app with a sense of focus, emulating the feel of an East Asian ink brush. It’s therefore suited to flowing, semi-abstract artistic effort with your finger to offer a digital take on calligraphy.
On iPhone’s teeny screen this app feels a little redundant, but it comes alive on the iPad’s larger display, especially if you have a stylus. The selection of tools is intentionally limited to keep you focused, but you can still swap between a red and black brush, experiment with alternate brush sizes or dryness values and swap out the underlying canvas.
There is a sense of give and take about Zen Brush 2’s level of realism: strokes are applied wonderfully, but inks don’t interact with each other nor the paper beneath. Still, the strong sense of character gives artwork created in Zen Brush 2 a unique feel and it’s a relaxing, almost meditative, app to spend time with.
Living Earth ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
As a combination clock and weather app, Living Earth works well across all iOS devices, but use it with an iPad in a stand and you’ve got something that’ll make other clocks in the immediate vicinity green with envy.
As you might expect, your first job with the app is to define the cities you’d like to keep track of. At any point, you can then switch between them, updating the main clock and weather forecasts accordingly. Tap the weather and you can access an extended forecast for the week; tap the location and you get the current times and weather for your defined locations.
But it’s the Earth that gets pride of place, taking up the bulk of the screen. It shows clouds by default, although weather geeks can instead choose colors denoting temperature, wind speed or humidity values. Then with a little swipe the globe rotates, neatly showing heavily populated locations during night time as lattices of artificial man-made light.
Stop Motion Studio Pro ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Animation can be painstaking, whether doing it for your career or just for fun. Fortunately, Stop Motion Studio Pro streamlines the process, providing a sleek and efficient app for your next animated masterpiece.
It caters to various kinds of animation: you can use your iPad’s camera to capture a scene, import images or videos (which are broken down into stills), or use a remote app installed on an iPhone. Although most people will export raw footage to the likes of iMovie, Stop Motion Pro shoots for a full animation suite by including audio and title capabilities.
There are some snags. Moving frames requires an awkward copy/paste/delete workaround. Also, drawing tools are clumsy, making the app’s claim of being capable of rotoscoping a tad suspect. But as an affordable and broadly usable app for crafting animation, it fits the bill.
Pinnacle Studio Pro ($12.99/£12.99/AU$19.99)
For the majority of iPad users, Apple’s iMovie is the go-to app for cutting footage and spitting out a movie. However, Pinnacle Studio Pro is a great option for anyone who wants a more desktop-like video editing experience.
The interface is efficient, enabling you to pre-trim clips, and quickly navigate your in-progress film by way of a standard timeline, or quickly jumping to scenes by tapping clip thumbnails. Additionally, there are tools for complex audio edits across three separate tracks, and adjusting a clip’s rotation.
The only downside is an initial feeling of complexity and an ongoing sense of clutter — this isn’t an especially pretty app. However, it is a usable, powerful and effective one, and that more than makes up for any niggles.
V for Wikipedia ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Wikipedia is one of the most amazing resources around, but it looks like a dog’s dinner. You might find certain subject matter thrilling, but your eyes will glaze over before you get through half an article on an iPad. V for Wikipedia rethinks this entire experience, unassumingly describing itself as «a nice reader for Wikipedia».
Every aspect of V for Wikipedia feels like output from a careful, considerate designer. There’s a smart nearby places view, where lines snake from an overhead map to Wikipedia article titles awaiting a tap, search results include brief synopses and images, but best of all, the articles themselves look great — more like a book to lean back and read than a website you’d prefer to flee from.
On the desktop, Scrivener is widely acclaimed as the writer’s tool of choice. The feature-rich app provides all kinds of ways to write, even incorporating research documents directly into projects. Everything’s always within reach, and your work can constantly be rethought, reorganised, and reworked.
On iPad, Scrivener is, astonishingly, almost identical to its desktop cousin. Bar some simplification regarding view and export options, it’s essentially the same app. You get a powerful ‘binder’ sidebar for organizing notes and documents, while the main view area enables you to write and structure text, or to work with index cards on a cork board.
There’s even an internal ‘Split View’, for simultaneously smashing out a screenplay while peering at research. With Dropbox sync to access existing projects, Scrivener is a no-brainer for existing users; and for newcomers, it’s the most capable rich text/scriptwriting app on iPad.
Model 15 ($29.99/£29.99/AU$46.99)
Your eyes might pop at the price tag of this iPad synth, but the hardware reissue of this amazing Moog was priced at a wallet-smashing $10,000. By contrast, the Model 15 iPad app seems quite the bargain. To our ears, it’s also the best standalone iOS synth on mobile, and gives anything on the desktop a run for its money.
For people used to messing around with modular synths and plugging in patch leads, they’ll be in heaven. But this isn’t retro-central: you can switch the piano keyboard for Animoog’s gestural equivalent; newcomers can work through straightforward tutorials about how to build new sounds from scratch; and those who want to dive right in can select from and experiment with loads of diverse, superb-sounding presets.
Tweetbot 4 ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
It’s been a long time coming, but finally Tweetbot gets a full-fledged modern-day update for iPad. And it’s a good one, too. While the official Twitter app’s turned into a ‘blown-up iPhone app’ monstrosity on Apple’s tablet, Tweetbot makes use of the extra space by way of a handy extra column in which you can stash mentions, lists, and various other bits and bobs.
Elsewhere, this latest release might lack a few toys Twitter selfishly keeps for itself, but it wins out in terms of multitasking support, granular mute settings, superb usability, and an interesting Activity view if you’re the kind of Twitter user desperate to know who’s retweeting all your tiny missives.
Chunky Comic Reader (from free)
There’s a miniature revolution taking place in digital comics. Echoing the music industry some years ago, more publishers are cottoning on to readers very much liking DRM-free content. With that in mind, you now need a decent iPad reader for your PDFs and CBRs, rather than whatever iffy reading experience is welded to a storefront.
Chunky is the best comic-reader on iPad. The interface is simple but customisable. If you want rid of transitions, they’re gone. Tinted pages can be brightened. And smart upscaling makes low-res comics look good.
Paying the one-off ‘pro’ IAP enables you to connect to Mac or Windows shared folders or FTP. Downloading comics then takes seconds, and the app will happily bring over folders full of images and convert them on-the-fly into readable digital publications.
Pop music is about getting what you expect. Ambient music has always felt subtly different, almost like anything could happen. With generative audio, this line of thinking became reality. Scape gives you a combined album/playground in this nascent genre, from the minds of Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers.
Each track is formed by way of adding musical elements to a canvas, which then interact in sometimes unforeseen ways. Described as music that «thinks for itself», Scape becomes a pleasing, fresh and infinitely replayable slice of chillout bliss. And if you’re feeling particularly lazy, you can sit back and listen to an album composed by the app’s creators.
Typography is something that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And so while there are excellent apps for adding text to images, you might want more help, rather than spending hours fine-tuning a bunch of misbehaving letters. That’s where Retype comes in.
You load a photo or a piece of built-in stock art, and type some text. Then it’s just a case of selecting a style. The type’s design updates whenever you edit your text, and variations can be accessed by repeatedly prodding the relevant style’s button. Basic but smart filter, blur, opacity and fade commands should cement Retype’s place on your iPad.
There are plenty of great distraction-free writing apps for iPad, but Ulysses for iPad adds serious management and editing clout to the mix. The idea is you use the app for all your writing — notes; in-progress text; final edits; and export. Items in your library can be manually sorted, grouped and filtered; text can be processed to PDF, DOCX, TXT, Markdown, HTML and ePub.
But what’s most astonishing is how the app’s interface mirrors its Mac counterpart’s, and yet still feels entirely at home on the iPad. (And for iPad Pro users hankering after a top-notch writing app to use in Split View, look no further).
On the desktop, Panic’s Transmit is a perfectly decent FTP client. But when it was first released for iPad, Transmit felt rather more like the future. It was smart and elegant, utilising all of the then-new iOS features, such as Share sheets.
Even today, its interface seems a step beyond its contemporaries — the vibrant icons and dark lists look gorgeous and modern. Most importantly, the app remains very usable, with an excellent drag-and-drop model, smart previews, and support for a huge range of services, including local shared Mac folders.
Previously known as iDraw, Graphic is now part of the Autodesk stable. Visually, it looks an awful lot like Adobe Illustrator, and it brings some suitably high-end vector-drawing smarts to Apple’s tablet.
All the tools and features you’d expect are present and correct; and while it’s admittedly a bit slower and fiddlier to construct complex imagery on an iPad than a PC, Graphic is great to have handy when you’re on the move. Smartly, the app boasts plentiful export functions, to continue your work elsewhere, and will sync with its iPhone and Mac cousins across iCloud.
There are loads of sketching tools for iPad, but it feels like Procreate is the one really forging ahead, bringing artists a well-balanced mix of power and accessibility.
If you want to keep things simple, Procreate gets out of your way. The toolbar doesn’t distract, and the only on-screen controls are handy sliders for brush size and opacity; but even these can all be auto-hidden after a user-defined period, leaving the entire screen to display your masterpiece.
Whether drawing with a finger or a stylus, Procreate proves responsive and feels surprisingly tactile. The tool selection is straightforward but offers real depth, not least in how you can really delve into brushes and mess about with their characteristics.
But the app has also taken to heart the fact it’s running on a touchscreen. To straighten a stroke, you simply hold its end point for a second. Undo and redo are merely a two — or three — finger tap away. And the strength of layer effects is determined by swiping across the canvas, in a pleasing and precise manner.
iPad video editors tend to have a bunch of effects and filters lurking within, but with VideoGrade you can go full-on Hollywood. On launch, the app helpfully rifles through your albums, making it easy to find your videos. Load one and you get access to a whopping 13 colour-grading and repair tools.
Despite the evident power VideoGrade offers, the interface is remarkably straightforward. Select a tool (such as Vibrance, Brightness or Tint), choose a setting, and drag to make a change. Drag up before moving your finger left or right to make subtler adjustments.
Smartly, any tool already used gets a little green dash beneath, and you can go back and change or remove edits at any point.
All filters are applied live to the currently shown frame, and you can also tap a button to view a preview of how your entire exported video will look. Want to compare your edit with the original video? Horizontal and vertical split-views are available at the tap of a button. Usefully, favorite filter combinations can be stored and reused, and videos can be queued rather than laboriously rendered individually.
Sky Guide ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
There are quite a few apps for virtual stargazing, but Sky Guide is the best of them on iPad. Like its rivals, the app allows you to search the heavens in real-time, providing details of constellations and satellites in your field of view (or, if you fancy, on the other side of the world).
Indoors, it transforms into a kind of reference guide, offering further insight into distant heavenly bodies, and the means to view the sky at different points in history. What sets Sky Guide apart, though, is an effortless elegance. It’s simply the nicest app of its kind to use, with a polish and refinement that cements its essential nature.
Mind-mapping is one of those things that’s usually associated with dull business things, much like huge whiteboards and the kind of lengthy meetings that make you hope the ground will swallow you up. But really they’re perfect whenever you want to get thoughts out of your head and then organise them.
On paper, this process can be quite messy, and so MindNode is a boon. You can quickly and easily add and edit nodes, your iPad automatically positioning them neatly. Photos, stickers and notes can add further context, and your finished document can be shared publicly or privately using a number of services.
BIAS FX ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
For most guitarists, sound is the most important thing of all. It’s all very well having a massive rig of pedals and amps, but only if what you get out of it blows away anyone who’s listening. For our money, BIAS FX is definitely the best-sounding guitar amp and effects processor on the iPad, with a rich and engaging collection of gear.
Fortunately, given the price-tag, BIAS FX doesn’t skimp on set-up opportunities either. A splitter enables complex dual-signal paths; and sharing functionality enables you to upload your creations and check out what others have done with the app.
Adult colouring books are all the rage, proponents claiming bringing colour to intricate abstract shapes helps reduce stress — at least until you realise you’ve got pen on your shirt and ground oil pastels into the sofa.
You’d think the process of colouring would be ideal for iPad, but most relevant apps are awful, some even forcing tap-to-fill. That is to colouring what using a motorbike is to running a marathon — a big cheat. Pigment is an exception, marrying a love for colouring with serious digital smarts.
On selecting an illustration, there’s a range of palettes and tools to explore. You can use pencils and markers, adjusting opacity and brush sizes, and work with subtle gradients. Colouring can be ‘freestyle’, or you can tap to select an area and ensure you don’t go over the lines while furiously scribbling. With a finger, Pigment works well, but it’s better with a stylus; with an iPad Pro and a Pencil, you’ll lob your real books in the bin.
The one niggle: printing and accessing the larger library requires a subscription in-app purchase. It’s a pity there’s no one-off payment for individual books, but you do get plenty of free illustrations, and so it’s hard to grumble.
Podcasts are mostly associated with small portable devices — after all, the very name is a mash-up of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore your favourite shows when armed with an iPad rather than an iPhone.
We’re big fans of Overcast on Apple’s smaller devices, but the app makes good use of the iPad’s extra screen space, with a smart two-column display. On the left, episodes are listed, and the current podcast loads into the larger space on the right.
The big plusses with Overcast, though, remain playback and podcast management. It’s the one podcast app we’ve used that retains plenty of clarity when playback is sped up; and there are clever effects for removing dead air and boosting vocals in podcasts with lower production values.
Playlists can be straightforward in nature, or quite intricate, automatically boosting favourites to the top of the list, and excluding specific episodes. And if you do mostly use an iPhone for listening, Overcast automatically syncs your podcasts and progress, so you can always pick up where you left off.
Toca Nature ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
On opening Toca Nature, you find yourself staring at a slab of land floating in the void. After selecting relevant icons, a drag of a finger is all it takes to raise mountains or dig deep gullies for rivers and lakes.
Finishing touches to your tiny landscape can then be made by tapping to plant trees. Wait for a bit and a little ecosystem takes shape, deers darting about glades, and fish swimming in the water. Using the magnifying glass, you can zoom into and explore this little world and feed its various inhabitants.
Although designed primarily for kids, Toca Nature is a genuinely enjoyable experience whatever your age.
The one big negative is that it starts from scratch every time — some save states would be nice, so each family member could have their own space to tend to and explore. Still, blank canvases keep everything fresh, and building a tiny nature reserve never really gets old.
Although Apple introduced iCloud Keychain in iOS 7, designed to securely store passwords and payment information, 1Password is a more powerful system. Along with integrating with Safari, it can be used to hold identities, secure notes, network information and app licence details. It’s also cross-platform, meaning it will work with Windows and Android.
And since 1Password is a standalone app, accessing and editing your information is fast and efficient. The core app is free – the company primarily makes its money on the desktop. However, you’ll need a monthly subscription or to pay a one-off $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 IAP to access advanced features (multiple vaults, Apple Watch support, tagging, and custom fields).
Dropbox is a great service for syncing documents across multiple devices, and chances are you’re familiar with it already. On the iPad, we used to consider Dropbox essential as a kind of surrogate file system.
Even now that Apple’s provided easier access to iCloud Drive, Dropbox remains a useful install, largely on the basis of its widespread support (both in terms of platforms and also iOS apps). The Dropbox app itself works nicely, too, able to preview a large number of file types, and integrating well with iOS for sending documents to and from the various apps you have installed.
iMovie (free with new device or $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
You’re not going to make the next Hollywood hit on your iPad, but iMovie’s more than capable of dealing with home movies. The interface resembles its desktop cousin and is easy to get to grips with.
Clips can be browsed, arranged and cut, and you can then add titles, transitions and music. For the added professional touch, there are ‘trailer templates’ to base your movie on, rather than starting from scratch.
And should your iPad be powerful enough, this app will happily work with and export footage all the way up to 4K, which will likely make anyone who used to sit in front of huge video workstations a decade or two ago wide-eyed with astonishment.
Launch Center Pro ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
The idea behind Launch Center Pro is to take certain complex actions and turn them into tappable items — a kind of speed-dial for tasks such as adding items to Clear, opening a URL in 1Password, or opening a specific view in Google Maps. Although the list of supported apps isn’t huge, it’s full of popular productivity apps; and should you use any of them on a regular basis, Launch Center Pro will be a massive time-saver and is well worth the outlay.
There are loads of note-taking apps for the iPad, but Notability hits that sweet spot of being usable and feature-rich. Using the app’s various tools, you can scribble on a virtual canvas, using your finger or a stylus. Should you want precision copy, you can drag out text boxes to type into. It’s also possible to import documents.
One of the smartest features, though, is audio recording. This enables you to record a lecture or meeting, and the app will later play back your notes live alongside the audio, helping you see everything in context. Naturally, the app has plenty of back-up and export options, too, so you can send whatever you create to other apps and devices.
Paper By FiftyThree (free)
For a long while, Paper was a freemium iPad take on Moleskine sketchbooks. You made little doodles and then flipped virtual pages to browse them. At some point, it went free, but now it’s been transformed into something different and better. The original tools remain present and correct, but are joined by the means to add text, checklists, and photos. One other newcomer allows geometric shapes you scribble to be tidied up, but without losing their character.
So rather than only being for digital sketches, Paper’s now for all kinds of notes and graphs, too. The sketchbooks, however, are gone; in their place are paper stacks that explode into walls of virtual sticky notes. Some old-hands have grumbled, but we love the new Paper. It’s smarter, simpler, easier to browse, and makes Apple’s own Notes look like a cheap knock-off.
Apple’s Photos app has editing capabilities, but they’re not terribly exciting — especially when compared to Snapseed. Here, you select from a number of tools and filters, and proceed to pinch and swipe your way to a transformed image. You get all the basics — cropping, rotation, healing brushes, and the like — but the filters are where you can get really creative.
There are blurs, photographic effects, and more extreme options like ‘grunge’ and ‘grainy film’, which can add plenty of atmosphere to your photographs. The vast majority of effects are tweakable, mostly by dragging up and down on the canvas to select a parameter and then horizontally to adjust its strength.
Brilliantly, the app also records applied effects as separate layers, each of which remains fully editable until you decide to save your image and work on something else.
Foldify Dinosaurs ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
We’re big fans of the Foldify apps, which enable people to fashion and customise little 3D characters on an iPad, before printing them out and making them for real. This mix of digital painting, sharing (models can be browsed, uploaded and rated) and crafting a physical object is exciting in a world where people spend so much time glued to virtual content on screens.
But it’s Foldify Dinosaurs that makes this list because, well, dinosaurs. Who wouldn’t be thrilled at the prospect of making a magenta T-Rex with a natty moustache? Should that person exist, we don’t want to meet them.