5 iPad Applications I Can’t Live Without (and Why)

iPadI’m currently on the road taking a much deserved family vacation in which we are driving nearly 2500 miles from Michigan to Saskatchewan (and back again). Among the many things that I have brought along to pass the time (both for me and for my kids) is my relatively newly acquired iPad. So, it seems appropriate this this installment of my “5 Things” series focuses on the iPad applications that I can’t live without. As is customary, there are caveats (there are always caveats). First off, I haven’t had my iPad all that long. So, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the apps that I’m going to talk about can’t be lived without. Perhaps that it might be more apt to title this post “5 iPad apps that I really like after 2 months of use.” Also, these are my 5 apps. I’m sure that other people have other opinions as to their 5 top apps. Finally, this list is productivity/work oriented. I didn’t include fun stuff like games (I love Plants vs. Zombies and Small World) or other nerd-oriented entertainment endulgences (such as the Marvel Digital Comics App or the DC Digital Comics App). So, that having been said, let’s get on with the list.


One of the things that the iPad does really well is take notes. The stock Notes app certainly does the job in this regard. However, I wanted something a little bit more, something with a little more style, something that gave me the feeling of taking notes in my moleskin. Penultimate fills that niche nicely. Developed by Cocoa Box Design, Penultimate is a fairly simply note taking app. The twist is that all input is handwritten, and not typed. You’ve got a choice of a series of “ink” colors and “pen” thicknesses. While the default input method is the finger (which, in all honestly, doesn’t work wonderfully), Penultimate really shines is when you pair it with a Pogo Sketch stylus from Ten One Design. With a Pogo Sketch stylus, you can actually take notes as if you were using paper – and I love that.


Every iPad owner needs a powerfile file viewer. For me, that’s GoodReader. Developed by Good.iWare, GoodReader is a great app for viewing a a wide variety of files. I mostly use it for reading PDFs or Word documents, but it can also handle all MS Office files, iWork files, HTML documents, Safari webarchives, hi-res images, audio files, and video files – all in all, pretty much anything you’d ever want to view. The other good thing about GoodReader is that it easily copes with huge files. I’ve personally tested GoodReader out on a 750MB file, and it worked flawlessly. The Good.iWare website says that GoodReader can cope with 1GB files, and I believe them. Files can be transferred to GoodReader via wifi or USB when you plug in your iPad. You can also use GoodReader to open email attachments. It also integrates with MobileMe iDisk,, and other popular WebDAV servers. It also plays nicely with non-WebDAV services like Google Docs and Dropbox. The last cherry on top of the awesome GoodReader sundae is that the app only costs a paltry .99 cents. With all this and a .99 cent pricetag you really don’t have an excuse not to give GoodReader a try.


I’ve written about the desktop version of Things in a previous “5 Things” post. It’s a great (unfortunately Mac only) task management app developed by Cultured Code which I’ve come to rely on rather heavily in order to keep my many projects (writing, teaching, grant, etc.) chugging along smoothly. The great thing about Things is that Cultured Code also makes mobile versions as well. The iPad version of Things is just as robust as the desktop version. It also gets a +1 for awesome because you can easily sync your desktop version of Things with your iPad version, thereby ensuring that you aren’t entering tasks twice or marking tasks complete on one version and not the other. All you need to do is be on the same wireless network, do a simple electronic handshake between the two devices, and you are good to go. Whenever the two versions are on the same wireless network, they will automatically sync. Word is, Cultured Code is also working on a cloud-based sync method (which would make me a happy camper).

As much as I love Things (and I love it a lot), its got one glaring problem: price. The regular desktop version of Things will set you back $49.95 (which is arguably pretty pricey for a GTD/task management app). The iPad version is going to cost you an extra $19.99 – which is very much on the expensive end of things for an iPad app. Now, you don’t need the desktop version of Things to use the iPad version. As I said, the iPad version does everything that the desktop version does. However, if you want Things on both your desktop (or laptop) and your iPad (thereby taking advantage of the whole syncing thing), you are going to have to shell out nearly 60 bucks.

Pulse News Reader

In my opinion, Pulse News Reader (created by Alphonso Labs) is the best RSS feed reader on the market, bar none. It does everything you would expect a news reader to do, and it does it well. Where Pulse News Reader really shines is its user interface, which is wonderfully designed and quite elegant. Honestly, I can’t say more more than Pulse News Reader does exactly what it is supposed to do, and it does it beautifully.


One of the major failings of the iPad is its lack of multitasking. At this stage of the game, the only way to cope with this is to jailbreak your iPad and install Backgrounder. I’ve already spoken at lengnth about jailbreaking my iPad in my Confessions of an iPad Jailbreaker (or Why and How I Jailbroke my iPad) post, so I’m not going to go into any details about that here. All you need to know is that Backgrounder lets you force apps into the background with a press ‘n’ hold of the home button (you can actually configure the trigger if you want via Activator – a handy utility that comes along with Backgrounder). The end result is that I can listed to Pandora while reading a document in GoodReader (or, more commonly, a digital comic). Its important to restate that Backgrounder can’t be downloaded from the iTunes store, and requires a jailbroken iPad to use.

So, now that I’ve shared my list, it’s time for you to share yours. What are your favorite iPad apps?

[Image by Flickr user ivyfield / Creative Commons licensed]

Return to Top