I used to be a pretty happy 12.9” iPad Pro user. It’d accompany me to coffee shops for writing duties and would be the first device I’d pick up each morning.
Then, Apple launched their M1 chip and I bought a MacBook Air. This completely changed the game for me in terms of how the iPad fitted into my life.
As a result, the iPad has gone full circle for me. Rather than attempting to be a “laptop replacement” (a term I’ve always struggled with, given iPadOS’ ham-fistedness when compared to macOS), it is now a consumption device. It has also led me to the smaller screen of the iPad Air.
As a result, the top five iPad apps I rely on has changed somewhat.
Yes, I’m aware this is a stock app, and you may think its presence on this list is a little odd, but while I was thinking through the iPad apps I use most regularly for my business, Safari simply couldn’t be ignored.
Now that the MacBook Air is my mobile device of choice, the iPad is largely used for reference duties. If I’m on the sofa and need to quickly check a fact or look something up, I’ll reach for the iPad Air.
Ever since Steve Jobs sat on that sofa of his own during the original iPad’s launch event and joyfully flicked through the New York Times website, the iPad’s raison d’être has been curiously diluted. It’s a superb consumption device; that’s what Steve was getting at throughout the demo. It doesn’t need to be a laptop replacement. And Safari remains the most useful tool it offers me each day for that very reason.
This is admittedly a bit ‘Inside Baseball’, but Notion has to make this list. The reason is simple: without it, I couldn’t run my YouTube brand. It’s the engine behind everything I film and write.
It’s tricky to define Notion as one ‘thing’, but that’s the beauty of it. I’ve always viewed it as a database application, albeit one which is eminently approachable for normal human beings.
I use Notion largely as a Kanban project planner. I have a section for my blogs, another for videos and several more for the various other types of content I produce. Notion enables me to track the progress of everything from idea to eventual publishing.
But it has one party trick which makes it very special indeed.
Notion’s databases aren’t just completely customisable, they’re relational, too. Therefore, if a blog I write has a corresponding video, which is also linked to a review unit, and that has its own brand contact, I can easily create links between all of them. The result is a single view of how every tiny part of my business interconnects, and it’s so useful.
The iPad version of Notion isn’t perfect, but the fact I can access it so easily on that tablet’s beautiful screen is such a productivity booster.
I made special note of Fantastical on my list of five Mac apps I couldn’t live without, and it absolutely deserves a place on this list, too.
I’m not a fan of Apple’s stock iPadOS calendar app. For me, it feels like it has never received much love from their development team. I can say this confidently, because I’ve discovered Fantastical.
The team behind Fantastical deserve a huge amount of praise. They’ve taken perhaps the simplest app concept of all (a diary) and have made every single element of it as useful as it should be without needlessly complicating anything.
Take the quick event entry, for instance. With Fantastical, you can type in a conversational calendar entry (i.e. “dinner tomorrow with Dave at the Dog and Duck for 3 hours at 7pm, remind me”) and it will instantly fill in all of the fields and options for you.
It’s hard to overemphasise just how much time that saves.
Oh, and it’s a rather attractive app, too.
If you write anything – be it blogs, website copy, fiction, white papers or research material, check out Ulysses.
As a writer, I’ve batted backwards and forwards between all sorts of writing apps while looking for perfection. I haven’t found it yet, but Ulysses comes damn close.
I was once a long-term Scrivener user, but their finicky Dropbox-based syncing method made it a pain to use on multiple devices. Ulysses nails that issue by simply using iCloud for syncing duties. Which works.
It also pairs down the writing experience just enough to make it the perfect iPad app for that task. And yes, I noted from the outset that I’m barely using my iPad for content production these days, but when I do, Ulysses is the first app I open, and it enables me to get ideas down immediately.
If you’ve got an iPad and it’s compatible with the Apple Pencil – get one. It’s one of the best peripherals Apple has ever made.
I’m not a big handwritten notetaker, to be honest, but I do like to occasionally pick up the iPad and Pencil and jot down the odd note or plan out an idea.
There are loads of note taking apps on the iPad, but GoodNotes is the one which has stuck for me. In truth, it doesn’t really do anything different to the likes of Notability or Penultimate, but I just like its design and sheer weight of options.
When you first get your Apple Pencil, you’ll inevitably wind up in the Notes app, and you’ll realise just how limited Apple’s own note taking app is for handwritten stuff. Save yourself some frustration and give GoodNotes a go, instead.
What’s on your iPad?
This list was far easier to put together than my list of favourite Mac apps, simply because my use case for the iPad is so tightly-defined.
But what about you? Let me know which apps you rely on the most for your iPad to have a worthy place in your life!