Apple’s iOS App Store hit the ground sprinting two-and-a-half years ago, and it hasn’t slowed down. In 2010, programmers unleashed a plethora of high-quality apps for the iPhone and its brand-new big sibling, the iPad.
For Apple’s tablet, many of the most impressive apps focused on the reading experience. That’s not surprising, because what better to do with that big, beautiful screen? And for the iPhone, we saw some clever apps that made excellent use of the handset’s always-on data connection, geo-awareness and camera.
With 400,000 apps crowding the iOS App Store, it’s tough to choose what’s worthy of a space on your screen. Here are Wired staff’s picks for the best iOS apps of 2010. There may be a lot of useless apps out there, but these are worth downloading.
Apple picked Flipboard as its top iPad app of the year, and we agree: It deserves the applause. The app grabs photos, text or video from links from Twitter, Facebook and RSS feeds, and stitches them into a magazine-like layout with neatly arranged panes, lots of white space and beautiful typography. Flipboard is basically a social magazine, breathing with content shared by people you care about. Once it establishes a solid revenue model, this app has the potential to reshape the future of publishing. (Free, download link)
The iPad’s beautiful display makes reading digital comics more enjoyable than the real thing, and Comic Zeal is a pleaser. It’s an open comic-book reader, meaning you can load comics (in .cbz or .cbr format) you download on your computer into the app wirelessly or over USB.
Some people will use this app to read free, open comics; others might use it for piracy. Whatever your use may be, Comic Zeal gives you the freedom of reading any comics you want on your iPad, rather than being tied to a specific universe, like you would be with the Marvel or DC Comics apps. Comic Zeal’s controls are nifty and easy to figure out in a snap, and if you close it to use a different app, you can relaunch it and resume the comic where you left off. ($8, download link)
Pocket God: Journey to Uranus
Bolt Creative’s Pocket God was a huge hit on the iPhone, and the game’s even better for the iPad. You play the role of a god, possessing the power to screw around with an island of dwarflike creatures called pygmies. In this iPad version, Journey to Uranus, you get an entire galaxy to play with, so you can torment the pygmies on different planets, each one packed with minigames. It’s a ton of fun for people of all ages. Five bucks in the App Store. ($5, download link)
Without Dropbox, the iPad wouldn’t truly be wireless. (“Connect to iTunes,” anyone?) Throw your music, PDFs, photos and videos into your online Dropbox folder and you’ll be able to load most of them with the Dropbox iPad app. (Free, download link)
As web lovers, Wired.com staff can’t appreciate Instapaper enough. The app takes content from web articles (which you’ve saved using a handy bookmarklet) and strips them of their ugly ads and squint-inducing boxes. As a result, you get web articles displayed with large, clean text — great for helping you concentrate on longer stories that you might not have the time to read during the day. It challenges the popular stereotype that reading websites turns people into superficial dumdums. ($5, download link)
Unlimited streaming video for a few bucks a month? That deal almost seems too good to be true, and it’s what makes Netflix a must-have on the iPad. (Free, download link)
This apps makes news-reading look gorgeous. Reeder displays all your RSS feeds in an albumlike interface, with a rectangular tile for each feed. Pinch outward on a feed and it launches its list of headlines on the left, with each article appearing in a right-hand window. Pinch inward to close the feed and go back to your main menu. Reeder reminds you why you bought an iPad in the first place. ($5, download link)
NPR’s ambitious iPad app isn’t just a speedier version of its website; it’s actually better. Tap an article and an embedded player pops up below so you can listen to an audio reading or supplementary material while you read. A Share tab enables you to share an article by Twitter, Facebook or e-mail. (Free, download link)
Evernote, a popular note-taking service that stores your notes in the cloud so you can access them anywhere, has done it again. Its iPad app displays your notes as nice, big, easily tappable thumbnails. Typing and saving a new note can be done in a snap. And viewing saved notes on the iPad’s big screen makes them much more usable and legible than they are on an iPhone or iPod Touch. We’ve always loved Evernote’s web interface and desktop app, but the iPad version really nails it. Evernote is a free download in the App Store. (Free, download link)
Plants vs. Zombies
This tower-strategy game is a visual treat with hours worth of challenging stages. The objective is simple but addictive: Plant your, uh, plants in strategic places to fend off a horde of zombies from taking over your lawn. ($7, download link)
HeyTell reinvents the walkie talkie, allowing you to exchange voice memos extremely quickly with others using the app. Hit the Record button and release it after you’re done dictating your message, and HeyTell sends a push-notification to the recipient’s iPhone. It’s extremely useful for making simple plans with friends, coordinating with coworkers or just goofing around. (Free, download link)
50 million people have downloaded Angry Birds, and it’s no mystery why. It has a really sharp style, fits in an accessible game genre and features a physics-based gameplay that creates a ton of different situations to keep the game interesting at various skill levels. The simple premise: You use a slingshot to shoot round birds at fat green pigs. Who wouldn’t find this charming? ($1, download link)
Cut the Rope
Slide your finger to cut a rope, causing a ball to drop to collect stars. It sounds like a brainless game, but Cut the Rope is actually fun, and it gets more and more challenging with every stage. ($1, download link)
Online music app Rdio is awesome for a few reasons. You get streaming audio, but you can also pre-sync selected tunes, so if your 3G connection is super crappy (hey, like here in San Francisco!) you don’t have to rely on that solely. Plus, with a Twitter-like system that lets you follow other Rdio users, it is a great way to discover new music through your friends. (Free, download link)
Roll the ideas of Flickr and Twitter into one, and you get Instagram. Snap a photo and it goes straight to the web — on the Instagram website, then to your Twitter, Facebook and Flickr accounts. Similar to Twitter, you follow other Instagram users, and you can view all the photos they post in a stream. It’s such a simple concept, but getting a purely visual connection with your friends is a real joy when you’re sick of reading text updates. (Free, download link)
Roll Instagram into Yelp into one, and you get Foodspotting. Pop open the Foodspotting app and you can look at photos of dishes at restaurants surrounding you — which can be a lot quicker than reading sarcastic reviews on Yelp. You can contribute to the photos, too: Snap a photo of your food, tag the restaurant and add rate it with “Noms.” (Free, download link)
Camera+ for the iPhone is another case of a third-party app doing things better than Apple itself. It’s an all-in-one photo-taking and editing application that improves on almost every aspect of the built-in camera app. ($1, download link)
If you’re visiting a foreign country and haven’t bothered to learn to read their native language, try whipping out the WordLens app. The app promises to translate words in real-time to the language you choose. (The basic app is free, but you have to pay $5 for each translation dictionary, e.g. Spanish-to-English or English-to-Spanish.) As it stands, the app isn’t great at translating long blocks of text, but it’s good for short translations, such as food items on a menu. We’re more interested in the implications this app has for traveling in general. (Free, plus $5 per dictionary, download link)
Available through the underground Cydia app store, MyWi is the No. 1 reason you need to jailbreak your iPhone. In a few seconds, the app turns your iPhone into a wireless 3G hotspot — extremely useful in times when you don’t have a Wi-FI connection and need to surf the web with your computer, or even your Wi-Fi-only iPad. That’s right — unlimited tethering with no monthly fees. ($20, product page)
The 19 Most Wired iPhone and iPad Apps of 2010 | Gadget Lab | Wired.com.
Well, weren’t you a good boy and/or girl this year! That iPad’s going to be your favorite new toy no matter what, but here’s how to squeeze the most out of it from day one.
I’ll assume you’ve successfully removed the iPad from its box, yes? Good. You’re a natural! Now trot on over to your computer and plug it in with that fancy 30-pin connector (also, don’t lose that connector—it’s proprietary to Apple).
Once you’re hooked up, iTunes will walk you through the registration process. It’s pretty intuitive! But in case you’re not one to intuit, you can check out our original iPad set-up guide.
Getting In Sync
Okay okay, so now here comes the first remotely tricky part. You’ll be given the option to sync up alllll of the apps and media you’ve got stashed away in iTunes. And this is where a little selectivity is going to be helpful.
So. If you don’t already own an iPhone or an iPod Touch, you can skip this part. If you do own one or both of those things, you’re going to want to pare down the apps you’ve collected. That’s partly because not all of your apps are ideally situated to the iPad’s larger display, and partly because you’re going to want to save room for the ones that are.
Fortunately, iTunes does a lot of the work for you. Apps are already segmented between “universal” apps (that work for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) and apps that are designed specifically for the iPhone. Which means: go ahead and sync all of the universal apps you already have, then either track down the iPad equivalents of the iPhone apps you love, or stick with the iPhone version and settle for some wonkiness.
You’ll also be given the choice to sync music, video, and photos. Again, be selective!
The Apps You Need Right Now
Okay, okay, here’s the fun part: where you get to trick out your tablet with the apps that make you a Grade A iPad Ninja. We keep constant track of the most essential iPad apps here, but think of the following as the most most essential:
Netflix streaming. On the iPad. It doesn’t really get much better than that, assuming you’ve got a Netflix account (which by now, honestly, shouldn’t you?). [Free]
Sure, Apple’s iBooks app is fine. But with Kindle you can read your ebooks across your iPad, iPhone, laptop, and actual Kindle. It’s the best, most versatile way to turn your iPad into a portable library. [Free]
The Grey Lady looks great on the iPad’s color screen. There’s tons of free content for now, so grab it before it disappears behind a paywall. [Free]
See something on the web you want to save for reading later? Instapaper it, and you’ll have a huge cache of perfectly formatted iPad content. [$5]
Even if you’re the type of person who just says they want to cook but doesn’t do any actual cooking, Epicurious is a must-have. It’s a huge, easily navigable recipe database, with the all the requisite mouth-watering pictures [Free]
Social media! RSS feeds! All wrapped up in a very pretty package. Flipboard turns your Facebook and Twitter updates—and a host of other content—into the only iPad magazine you may ever need. [Free]
Of course, you may also just want your Twitter pure and simple, in which case you can’t do much better than the Twitter for iPad [Free]
Words With Friends HD
Pseudo-Scrabble ends up being even better than real Scrabble, mostly because your friends have already downloaded this version. [$1 (sale price)]
Just in case you wanted to use your iPad to do some actual, uh, work, you can’t do much better than Elements for a text editor. Bonus: files are stored in your Dropbox folder, so you can access them anywhere. [$5]
Totally original, amazing 3D graphics, an epic storyline: this is the iOS game to own right now. So go get it. [$6]
The whole point of the iPad is that it’s portable—which also means it’s more liable to get nicked, splashed, dropped, and dinged. Fortunately, you’ve got near limitless case options that range from stylish to sturdy to kickstand. Here are a few recommendations to fit your own personal style.
Quirky Cloak Case for iPad [Amazon, $50]
BookBook for iPad [Twelve South, $70]
Official Moleskine iPad Case [Amazon, $65]
InCase Convertible Book Jacket [InCase: $60]
Crux360 [Crux: $150]
Official Etch-a-Sketch iPad Case [Headcase, $40]
Don’t get me wrong—it was great of them to get you that iPad. But no tablet is an island, and you’ll want to pick up these iPad peripherals lickety-split.
Apple iPad Keyboard Dock
That giant on-screen keyboard is okay for short bursts, but you’re going to want an actual keyboard if you’re writing anything much longer than a tweet. [Apple, $70]
3-in-1 iPad Camera Connection Kit
Forget Apple’s official iPad camera connector, with its separate USB and SD card slots. This little guy lets you transfer files via USB, SD, and microSD all in one dongle. [MIC Gadget, $30 (preorder)]
Twelve South iPad Compass Stand
Cases can prop up your iPad in a pinch, but the sleekly multi-positional Compass stand acts as a perfect easel for your tablet’s canvas. [Twelve South, $40]
That should just about do it! You’ve got your apps, your case, and your gear, and you’re pretty much good to go. If you want to explore your iPad a little further, check out our 11 tips and tricks, our guide to accessing your whole computer from an iPad, and our ultimate jailbreaking guide. Most of all, enjoy your shiny new gadget, and Merry Christmas!
Send an email to Brian Barrett, the author of this post, at email@example.com.