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My iPad Essentials

The new Retina Display combined with LTE in the new iPad (3) was justification enough for me to pre-order a replacement for my old 1st-gen iPad. Quick review … I love it. The display is as gorgeous as advertised, and it is faster and lighter than my old iPad (1). A quick speedtest using LTE in Albuquerque gave me 11Mbps downloads – I can live with that.

A simple iCloud restore of my old iPad on to the new one worked very well (never had to connect up to iTunes). Now I think I should take the opportunity to reconsider all the apps I have installed, and whether I use them. So taking a cue from David Sparks’ Home Screens series on MacSparky I thought I’d look at my own homescreen.

My homescreen
My homescreen

Go-To Apps

The apps I reach for most often on my iPad fall into the following categories:


The iPad of course excels as a reading device, especially with the crispness of the new Retina Display[1]. For eBooks I use both Kindle and iBooks , but mostly Kindle. I am also a heavy Instapaper user - links I come across in Twitter or otherwise during the day get saved to Instapaper so that I can read them at a more convenient time. The sharing features in Instapaper are great - it is easy to post quotes I like to my Tumblr, to Evernote, or create a task in OmniFocus.

I follow way too many blogs via Google Reader (though I use it only to keep things in sync between devices). My RSS reader of choice is Reeder, though sometimes when I want a different view (mostly to browse feeds I don’t actually read regularly) I’ll dip in using either Feedly, or Flipboard.

The iPad is also great for reading PDFs, and for that I prefer Goodreader. Within Goodreader I can sync or just download folders via Dropbox (and now iCloud, but maybe more on that another day), and I can highlight and annotate the PDF files. A “must-have” app in my opinion.


Writing is such an interesting activity for me. It is definitely something I need to do in a flow state and getting into that state can be difficult. On the other hand I like being able to change my environment when either an idea or motivation strikes me, or just to get a change of scenery if I’m stuck. For these reasons I’ve switched to a text-base + Dropbox system for managing my writing projects.

On iPad my current text editors are Elements, Nebulous, and Byword. Why three and not just one? Each has it’s strengths and weaknesses, so I’ll pick whichever seems better suited to the situation.


I prefer the iPad/iPhone over the desktop for Twitter and Facebook over the desktop. My current favorite Twitter app is Tweetbot - just excellent all around (and I recently discovered that it works with the TweetMarker service to sync timelines across devices - so awesome).

I will also often grab the iPad to check email even if I’m also working on laptop so as to not disrupt what I’m doing. Apple’s Mail app works well enough, but after playing a bit with Sparrow on iPhone I’m hoping that app will come to the iPad soon.

Thinking and Planning

The other area where the iPad excels for me is thinking and planning.

Mind mapping is a great way to organize thoughts on projects, writing and anything that has more that a few moving pieces, and for mind mapping iThoughtsHD is excellent. In addition to a great interface it imports/exports many different file formats and syncs with Dropbox. [2]

If I want a more traditional outline view OmniOutliner fits the bill (and you can move between iThoughtsHD and OmniOutliner easily using OPML file formats).

The iPad is a great environment for planning my workday/week. I use Calvetica to get an overview of my calendar/schedule. With it I can get nice daily, weekly, or monthly overviews of my work calendar (synced from Exchange) and personal (via iCloud).

Projects and tasks I manage using OmniFocus, which also syncs nicely between iPad, iPhone, and Mac. There is a pretty steep learning curve to OmniFocus, and despite many great resources available I have yet to fully master it.


The one area I haven’t really found a go-to app yet is for diagramming. I have downloaded quite a few, but none have stuck yet, so I’ll continue to try new ones until I find one that works (or maybe diagramming is best kept for paper for now).


And just a few miscellaneous apps I reach to from time to time.

  • Evernote – store notes, links, and pdfs to be synced across devices. Used a lot less these days since moving to text files and dropbox.
  • Wolfram Alpha – search app for calculated information - can be used for looking up everything from conversions, IP subnet calculations, or Scrabble words.
  • BeejiveIM – Instant messaging client
  • Soulver – a unique calculator app
  • Pcalc – a more traditional calculator, with RPN support
  • SubnetCalc – and IP subnet calculator
  • Prompt – an SSH client


Looking at the other apps on my iPad I don’t see any obvious candidates to jump to the front page, so I guess this list will stay static for a little while longer.

  1. Except when reading digital magazines that have been rendered as non-retina bitmapped text - they look a lot worse.  ↩

  2. Dropbox is really the glue that makes then iPad useable for creative tasks such as writing and mind mapping, and not just consumption. iCloud may fill this gap in the future, but it’s not quite there yet.  ↩

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