It's hard to believe but the iPad was announced only a year ago. Apple has already sold over 10 million iPads so far not bad for something that's only been around for nine months. Yes, the iPad actually didn't go on sale until April last year. While it is very likely that a new iPad model will be announced in the next month or two, the following is for those who currently own an iPad.
In case you have been hiding in a cave somewhere for the past year, Apple took what they learned from their popular iPhone and iPod Touch and created a whole new electronic category, the tablet. While there have been Tablet PCs before, the iPad with its finger-touch interface is something new.
The iPad looks and operates like an iPod Touch on steroids. Instead of a smallish 3.5-inch screen, the iPad has an impressive 9.7-inch screen. The iPad uses the same touch screen technology and same operating system as the iPhone/Touch. Because of this, most all of the same Apps will run just fine on the iPad (graphics may look a little blocky though when enlarged). Fortunately Apple has such drive in the mobile market, many of the developers who created iPhone Apps reworked their titles to take advantage of the bigger screen of the iPad. These iPad specific titles usually have 'HD' in the name.
Right out of the box (after you connect it up to a computer running iTunes), there are plenty of things an iPad can do. Included Apps allow it to act as an iPod (music-movies-TV shows-Podcasts) or browse the web with Safari. Other included Apps include: Mail, Photos, YouTube Player, iTunes, Maps, App Store, Notes, Contacts, Calendar (can sync with iCal on your Mac), and Game Center.
Out of the box you can surf the web, E-mail, keep contacts, keep a schedule, view your digital photos, view maps (with GPS or WiFi it can show your location), listen to your music library, or watch movies/TV shows you've downloaded or rented.
For some, this might be all they need. For others, the App Store is where you will likely find yourself. There are hundreds of thousands of Apps out there for the iPad/iPhone/Touch (over 300,000 at last count). There are Apps for almost anything you can think of. This makes it a bit hard to find an App to do what you want to do. Luckily there are some nice App sites out there that rate and review titles.
If you have a new iPad there are a few Apps that I consider 'essential'. These Apps cover everything from cooking, childcare, GPS Navigation, productivity, news, weather, and the biggest one of all, games. To get an App on your iPad you can either use the App Store App on the iPad itself, or you can get them through iTunes on your computer.
While the iPad is not going to replace your laptop, it can be used as an able stand-in. On the Mac, Apple has an 'Office' suite called iWork, which has Pages (word processor/desktop publisher), Numbers (spreadsheet), and Keynote (presentation ala Power Point). Apple has created iPad versions of each of these programs. They are compatible with the desktop versions, but they are a little limited, like you can't add additional fonts. Each title is available separately so you only have to buy the App you need. Each App is $9.99.
Some other useful productivity Apps to go along with iWorks for iPad include: Files To Go, ToDo, Penultimate, Evernote, Bento, Instapaper Pro, and GoodReader. Some essential Apps for the iPad include: Pandora Radio, Netflix Streaming Player (Netflix account required), ABC Player (TV), iBooks, USA Today, NPR for iPad, Google Earth, IMDb Movies & TV, iHeartRadio, Kindle App, AIM for iPad, Free Books, and The Weather Channel for iPad.
We all need time to relax, or at least to kill time while waiting in line or commuting to/from work. This is when a good game fits the bill. Popular iPad games include: Plants vs. Zombies, Field Runners, We Rule, Scrabble, Angry Birds HD, Flight Control HD, Real Racing HD, Need for Speed Shift, Pinball HD, Infinity Blade, Madden NFL Football 10 for iPad, N.O.V.A., Spite & Malice, Bejeweled 2+Blitz, Monopoly HD, and God Finger.
While not necessary, a Mobile Me account can be quite useful. Mobile Me is a subscription service offered by Apple that allows you to synchronize and share data with an iPad, Mac laptop, or Mac desktop. With Mobile Me you get a .mac or .me email address. This email is then available to all your Mobile Me devices. Contacts, Calendars, and Bookmarks are all synchronized to each computer. You change something on your iPad, it automatically changes it on your other computers. There are several other great features in Mobile Me, but the most important is the FIND MY iPad function. With this feature turned on you can locate a lost, or stolen, iPad/iPhone/Touch through Mobile Me. Mobile Me is $99/year from Apple, but check Amazon who regularly sells it at a discount.
While Apps can be fun and useful, accessories are another important part of using an iPad. This can be something as simple as a case or more elaborate like a keyboard for text input. A good case will help prolong the life of your iPad. The basic case from Apple ($39) is actually pretty good. If you are really into digital photography you will want to get the digital camera connection kit. This consists of two small adapters one is a USB port and the other is an SD card adapter. You can connect your digital camera directly to the iPad with its USB cable, or if it uses the popular SD memory card, just slip use the card adapter. Now you can load and view your digital photos on the iPad, which makes a great viewer.
Another adapter is the iPad Dock VGA adapter ($29). This allows you to connect the iPad to a computer monitor or video projector. Apple also makes a video cable ($39), either composite video or component video, to connect the iPad to a TV. Just remember that with either of these video adapters/cables, the output is controlled by the App not the iPad itself. This means that you can only output video if the App allows it. Thankfully Apps like Keynote and Netflix work through these video ports.
If you plan on using your iPad for text data entry then a true keyboard is a good investment. The virtual touch screen keyboard is actually pretty darn good, but it is not ideal for larger jobs. Apple has a couple of options for keyboards. They make an iPod Dock with a built-in keyboard ($69). You can also use Apple's (or other makers) wireless Bluetooth keyboard ($69). If you plan to travel with a keyboard, go with the Bluetooth model, the keyboard/dock is a little bulky and hard to pack in a small case. If you have the camera connection kit you can just plug-in a USB keyboard using the USB adapter module.
Apps really make the iPad. On its own, the iPad is an amazing Internet device and media player. Adding Apps expands the iPad into an entertainment and productivity tool. Most Apps are price from FREE to about $10 many are just a buck or two. Getting the right App and the right accessories can create the working iPad.