Late last week, we began a holiday series outlining some essential apps to be downloaded to new Apple devices under the tree. The goal of these guides, of course, is to help new iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac users to get the most out of their new devices.
Keeping the app recommendations somewhat unique and original has been a slight challenge, however. Things 3, for example, is our pick for the best GTD productivity suite for all Apple devices, not just the iPad. Day One is the best journaling app on each platform, but one person may create more journal entries on an iPhone than they do on the iPad, making it a more essential app for the iPhone.
It’s not a major challenge, but it has added an extra element to be considered, specifically for the iPad guide. The ability to multi-task, put apps in Split View, work on an external keyboard, and work with the Apple Pencil all provide unique aspects to the iPad not available on the iPhone.
It’s along these lines that I’ve considered the most essential apps to get started on the iPad, and I hope the following five apps give your new iPad a jump-start into the areas the latest iPads most succeed.
An App for Automation: Shortcuts
Shortcuts is Apple’s gloss of paint over yesterday’s Workflow, but there’s something about this new gloss of paint that makes Shortcuts an essential app to new iPads. Shortcuts is a tad geeky, with some developer lingo like “variables” and “if” statements and so on, which may scare some new users off. However, even utilizing some of the more generic shortcuts inside the Shortcuts gallery will boost your iPad performance.
The Shortcuts ceiling is limitless. To start, jump into the Gallery and scroll through some essential shortcuts for the iPad. Try out the “Browse Top News” shortcut to bring up a list of popular news sites and their articles, then jump straight into Safari to read. Or use a “Clear Out Photos” shortcut to cull through your Camera Roll and delete duplicate photos.
The power of Shortcuts is taken to a new level if you jump into Apple’s Shortcuts documentation and learn some of the actions behind-the-scenes. Using Shortcuts, I created a simple “Search Amazon” shortcut to search for a product on Amazon through an app called Associate, and the resulting URL comes out complete with a custom Amazon affiliate tag. I have also been able to replicate an entire workflow for updating pages on The Sweet Setup previously only done on a Mac.
Lastly, a quick tip I learned from The Sweet Setup contributor Matthew Cassinelli is to permanently keep Shortcuts in Slide Over. This allows you to quickly swipe from the right and bring up your entire list of Shortcuts to be used anywhere in iOS at any time. My use of Shortcuts increased tenfold after Matthew suggested this.
Shortcuts takes some getting used to, but once you’ve discovered how to harness the power of the app, there’s nothing stopping the iPad from becoming your go-to Apple device.
An App for Reading Digital Newspapers: Blendle
Blendle is a news app I was recommended over the summer that takes the pain out of expensive monthly subscriptions for high quality journalism. Simply top up your Blendle wallet and pay for each article you read in the app. Articles range from $0.19 US to $0.49 US, and you can select any article from the list of recommendations or even jump into any given newspaper and select an article directly.
One of my favorite features is the way in which Blendle allows you to browse all types of journalism. Tap the “Browse” button at the bottom of the screen and a shelf of the world’s best newspapers is shown. Tap on a newspaper and tap on a specific article from there to read the article in Blendle. This reminds me a lot of the first renditions of digital newspapers on the iPad from a few years ago, but Blendle has pulled off the trick properly.
The iPad is a device made for reading and consuming, and Blendle puts the world’s best journalism in your hands at a fraction of the price of a newspaper subscription.
You can download Blendle for free from the App Store.
The Best Task Manager: Things 3
Because Things 3 has some of the best external keyboard support of any app on the iOS App Store. For a task manager, this seems like a quirky feature, but external keyboard support in Things 3 is, in my opinion, the best overall feature.
Everything inside Things 3 can be manipulated, changed, added, edited, and more with the keyboard. This gets you into the app and out of the app in record time, ensuring you’re focusing on getting things done rather than inputting the things you need to get done.
Things 3 has two other major things going for it on the iPad.
First is its design — Things 3 is one of the most beautiful apps available, and the dark modes on iOS are especially striking.
Second is its price — because Things 3 can be manipulated so explicitly by an external keyboard, it is essentially a desktop app on the iPad. The Mac version of Things 3 goes for $50, while the iPad version is only $20. If you only want to own one version of Things 3, the most value will be found on the iPad.
Things 3 for iPad is $19.99 on the App Store.
An App for Taking Hand-Written Notes: Notability
The latest iPad Pros come with support for the new and improved Apple Pencil, making the device perfect for analog note-takers, artists, and more. If, like me, you attend classes and need a way to take handwritten notes that you can effortlessly search later on, you’ll need an app like Notability.
There are a few great note-taking apps on the App Store and Notability is my favorite thanks to its cross-platform support. When you open a blank page to write, you’ll quickly notice the difference between how Notes portrays your handwriting and how Notability portrays your handwriting. Notability adds a little extra flair to handwritten notes, making it both easier to read your quick handwriting and for searching through later.
Of course, you can add typed notes, highlighter annotations, and more as well.
There’s something particularly powerful about loading up an online webinar and a digital page for handwritten notes in Split View on the iPad, then returning to those handwritten notes on your iPad or Mac in the future to study. Throw in the ability to search your handwritten notes via the search bar and you have a 21st Century device built for students.
Notability is one of our front runners for the best handwriting apps for the iPad in our upcoming review. You can also take a look at Goodnotes 4 (which can be had for $7.99 on the App Store) if you’re in search of a competitor to Notability.
Notability for iPad is $9.99 on the App Store.
An App for Mind Mapping: MindNode 5
The advantage of “mind mapping” is that it enables you to make connections you might not normally see in a traditional outline by allowing you to see the big picture. MindNode 5 is a perfect app for hashing out ideas and complex thoughts on the iPad’s big display.
MindNode has the perfect balance between beautiful design, ease of use, standard features like iCloud syncing, and import/export features to make it a functional part of any workflow. The UI is simple and intuitive, even if you’re not an experienced mind mapper, and you can even attach files to nodes in MindNode by simply dragging them over the node.
With version 5, the iOS version has near feature parity with the macOS version so you can work on your mind map just about anywhere. The iOS version uses a couple of buttons and a swipe-up panel to access many of MindNode’s features. The end result is that it is incredibly easy to access and edit your mind map, even on the limited screen real estate of an iPhone or smaller iPad.
As the iPad continues to branch out into more and more creative alleys, MindNode is sure to be one of the starting points for an increasing number of creators.
MindNode 5 is available for free on the App Store and can be purchased after the trial via an in-app upgrade.