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Best iPad Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders (Best Apps)

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Even before the poor thing had shipped, naysayers had their fun with it: the iPad’s nothing more than an oversized iPhone. But now that we’ve all gotten are fingers on these silver-and-black beauties, this much is clear: where the iPhone’s great for the little things in life—killing boredom, local lookups, and, you know, talking to people—the iPad excels at an entirely different set of tasks. Its larger screen lets you create and kick back in ways that, while possible on a smartphone, are hardly pleasurable. Its instant-on status invites you to open it more readily than a laptop and then touch what you want: put this circle over there; gimme a closer look at that nose; demon Zombie, take that!

In sum, it’s true: the iPad’s neither fish nor fowl, neither pocket PC nor portable laptop. In a very literal way it’s a mobile computer that you moves as you do: from the couch to the dining room table, from the waiting room to, let’s admit it, the bathroom. (The laptop travels to those spots only for the truly committed.)

With different talents come different criteria for excellence. The choices you’ll encounter in the following pages look different from those crowned in this series’ first installment (Best iPhone Apps). The guiding mission remains the same—curate a collection that will drive the average reader into an enthusiasmigniting, download-inducing fit of “my iGadget can do that?” But a secondary set of iPad-specific factors played a big part in putting this list together. Here you’ll find apps that:

Take advantage of the iPad’s unique talents. This is where the radar was set on high alert for apps that made novel use of the tap, the swipe, the pinch, and the flick. (And to think some doubted this device would be a hit—if nothing else it’s a chance to relive the best parts of third grade.) From virtual sculpting programs to better news browsers, you’ll find apps that do things that can’t easily be done on other devices (not to mention in print).

Are as beautiful as the iPad itself. Here we enter territory that’s slightly subjective, but which brings to mind that famous Supreme Court opinion on pornography: you know it when you see it. The main idea here is to find programs that exhibit the same elegant design that went into the creation of the device. And it’s not about ornamentation, either. It’s the sweating-the-details elegance that make the best apps intuitive, responsive to your instincts, and, above all, great showcases for the content rather than buttons, menus, and other administrative levers and pulleys. Just as Mr. Fancy Accent wanted Grey Poupon for his Bentley, you want beautiful-looking apps for your iPad.

Go easy on the instructions. Great apps are those that, upon launch, are obvious to use. Got an app that will balance a checkbook or composea sonnet but which require the user to double-tap then swipe the far-right column in a zig-zag manner? Probably not worth it to most people. To be sure, a few of the more jaw-droppingly accomplished apps (flight simulators, music studios) contain features that  become clear only after spending some time in the Help section. Butthe juice, in those cases, better be worth the squeeze. And definite preference was given to apps that artfully integrated their guidance into their core performance by doing things like making it clear which content was tappable and layering instructions onto the screen for first-time users.

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