There appears to be a demand—if not, there is at least a supply—for top 10 iPhone apps lists. I have seen several pop up on the Internet in recent days.
Maybe I am not looking in the right places, but I haven't seen the same kind of lists drawn up for the iPad. I am here to resolve that injustice.
My trusty little electronic slate has come a long way since it was introduced last winter, and I last wrote about it here. It has shown enough promise to justify hopes that the iPad and its competitors may yet be the saviors of journalism.
There will be a price, of course. The leading news organizations have begun the process of moving their choicest products behind pay walls—the first step in weaning Americans from the habit of free news that they've acquired in the last decade.
Free pages won't go away. They will still be there, as loss leaders, to draw you in. But, gradually, we will have to get used to paying for the full menu of goodies.
And, as with all websites that evolve into apps, there is a certain unfortunate homogenization. I can spend an hour in the nooks and crannies of the print version of the New York Times, and even more at the Times website, with its blogs and updates and archives and other features. But I breeze through the Times app in just a few moments. It is designed, like a cheeseburger, to be easy to consume.
At their worst, apps inspire laziness and complacency. Remember, back in the ancient history of the 1990s, when AOL offered us a safe and easy portal to the chaos of the web? That's the kind of impulse behind the app. "Surfing" as a metaphor has never been more apt. Apps are about surface. If you want depth, stick to the web.
That said, as we near the end of Year One, here are the applications that I return to, time and again.
I offer several caveats:
I use the standard time burners, like chess, pinball, solitaire and poker, but don't employ the iPad to play the more complex computer games, which are among the most popular apps for millions of my fellow iPad users. So factor that in before you ask why Angry Birds is not on the list.
I don't yet use my iPad for work. When I set out on my next book tour, I intend to experiment with Keynote and Pages, and I'll let you know how I fare. But right now my iPad is a passive instrument. I don't create on it; I consume.
And I'm cheap. Most of these apps are, at least for the moment, free or near to it.
1. Kindle and iBooks and Free Books and Nook. The price of Amazon's electronic reader, the Kindle, has dropped to $139. It's far cheaper than an iPad and, for sunny days and subway rides, preferable. But with an iPad, you get brilliant color, and access to all the e-book sites and features. Barnes & Noble offered me a free book the other day: I chose Empire of the Summer Moon, a great tale by S. Gwynne about the Comanche Indians and the settling of the West. Thanks, Nook.
2. Netflix and iTunes. Sit down on couch. Select movie. Watch. You can pay per movie in iTunes, or pay by month with Netflix.
3. Flipboard. This is a very cool app that takes your favorite social media sites—like Facebook or Twitter—and transforms their hum-drum format into something like a daily magazine. You can use it with news aggregators, like Huffington Post, as well. The site needs editors: there is no rhyme or reason, as far as I can tell, to what gets a big headline and prominent display and what doesn't, but that is true of the New York Times and other newspaper sites as well.
4. PBS and the ABC Player. Did you forget to watch or record the latest episode of Sherlock? The PBS app has it for you, along with Frontline and Great Performances and Austin City Limits and reruns of Julia Child. The ABC Player site offers a similar roster of ABC shows on demand. Hey HBO—whatsamattayou?
5. Victoria's Secret. Okay, you can stop laughing now. This one is listed here not just for the pretty girls in scanty underwear (though they are pretty and it is scanty), but for its high production values. If you want to see the future of commerce, advertising (and maybe journalism), download this app and browse through the videos, photographs and catalogue. You can always delete it before your spouse catches on. Along the same lines, but not nearly as exciting, is the Weber On the Grill app. It is a great advertisement for Weber grills, masquerading as a how-to-barbecue and cook book.
6. The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. The major newspapers took varying directions when the economic crisis hit the business. More than the Post, the Times and Journal invested in their news product. But the app format is a great equalizer, and on the iPad the Post has caught up fast.
The Times app is like one of the child actors in the Harry Potter movies—it has grown up in public, as we watched, evolving from the crude "Editor's Choice" to an almost satisfying version of the paper today. The Journal and USA Today have similarly evolved. The Post chose to wait and spring its app, full drawn, this fall. Like most newspaper and magazine apps, all four fail to take advantage of the format. The Times does its own videos, but segregates them. The Post and USA Today sprinkle AP video throughout the coverage. The Journal surprised this morning—its review of the new Potter flick actually has an integrated excerpt from the film that you can watch.
The newspaper industry's slow integration of print and video is no doubt a function of cost, and should be fixed over time. If you want an immediate reminder of the possibilities the iPad offers to integrate media, see the O, The Oprah Magazine app.
7. ESPN ScoreCenter XL. Scores and video, organized by your favorite team and sport. Keep track of Tiger's comeback, and watch as Ovi and the gang defeat those evil teams from Pennsylvania.