Table of Contents
The Best free iPad apps 2021
On this page you’ll find the best app of the month – our top new or updated selection to try out, and check back every month to find a new option to test. After that, it’s the best entertainment apps (surely the best reason to own an iPad…) and a variety of categories on the following pages to tickle your fancy.
Free app of the month: Serial Reader
Serial Reader wants you to read the classics. You might argue you don’t have time to wade through The Odyssey or War and Peace, but Serial Reader begs to differ, and cunningly chops up such tomes – and hundreds more you can choose from – into bite-sized chunks you can blaze through on a daily basis.
Each ‘issue’ takes about ten minutes to read and arrives at a user-defined time, along with an optional notification. It’s a clever system that really does get you reading. And the reading experience itself is solid too, with all the usual layout and typography options you’d expect.
Generously, you get all this for free, but pay $2.99/£2.49/AU$4.49 for premium and you get extra features, including cloud sync, ‘read ahead’ to future issues, highlights and notes, series pausing and the option to add your own EPUBs.
The best free entertainment apps for iPad
Our favorite free iPad apps for having fun with your iPad, whether shopping, coloring, reading, watching TV or using Twitter.
Reading List – Book Tracker
Reading List – Book Tracker is ideal if you buy loads of books and then forget about rather than read them. You add books to your virtual library by scanning barcodes or adding them from a web search results list. They then lurk in the sidebar.
A single tap on any entry and you can peruse its various details, along with heading off to Amazon or Google Books. Through adding user-defined categories, you can manage larger collections, or even have Reading List act as a wish list for titles you’ve not yet purchased. Basic progress tracking is in the mix too.
For free, the app is resolutely single-device, with no iCloud sync. But given the other features, it feels like a generous freebie for people who want to keep track of the books they’re reading.
Sandbox – Physics Simulator
Sandbox – Physics Simulator is an entertainingly noodly mix of creation and wanton destruction. It gives you a blank screen and a bunch of icons, inviting you to select materials and draw components to fill the void. You can build levitating stone structures that can be filled with soil and seeds, at which point flowers will start to grow.
Alternatively, you can explore what will happen when lightning blasts firework powder, or when you drop a bomb on your beautiful creation. Hint: nothing good for the things you’ve made. But Sandbox itself is plenty good. Sure, it’s a long way from real life, and its old-school pixel art aesthetic screams retro. But as a way to experiment and relax – whether you chill by making things grow or blowing them up – this is an excellent iPad freebie.
MusicHarbor deals with a gap in Apple Music and other streaming services: keeping track of your favorite artists, rather than just playing their tracks.
You can import artists from your local library or a streaming service. Imports appear as disc-shaped buttons. Tap on one and the artist/band page will display releases in reverse-chronological order, with a button to zip to a Google News search based on relevant keywords.
Elsewhere, the sidebar provides instant access to latest and upcoming releases, music videos, and concerts. Go pro ($5.99/£5.99/AU$9.99) and you can filter releases by kind, adjust the app’s appearance, and filter concerts by proximity. Even if you don’t, this one’s a must to keep tabs on artists and bands.
Photo Flashback! recalls services like Timehop that serve up photos you took years ago on today’s date. Here, though, the focus is solely on the contents of photos on your iPad and in iCloud Photo Library.
On launching the app, you’ll see the day’s selection and can opt to add the current year via a quick trip to the app’s settings. To check out other dates, tap the calendar. In the window that appears, each date lists the number of photos available, along with a small preview of one of them.
Photo Flashback! is another of those free apps that’s generous to the point you wonder what the catch is. But there isn’t one – this is just a wonderful and entirely free way to relive favorite memories.
The Wallpaper App
The Wallpaper App gives you endless wallpapers for your iPad. The designs are procedurally generated, based around 15 different styles that are accessed by horizontal swipes. Within each style, variations are previewed by you tapping on the left or right half of the screen. Swipe upwards and you find more controls, to subtly adjust the brightness and color within the current design.
Unlike most free wallpaper apps, output is optimized specifically for your iPad – although you can long-press the Save button to export wallpaper for other screen sizes.
The entire production feels elegant, perfectly matching the host hardware. And although it perhaps won’t suit every iPad owner – especially if you’re keen on using photography for screen backgrounds – it’s an ideal download if you fancy shaking up your Home screens with something arty and refined.
Sofa: Downtime Organizer
Sofa is a free iPad app that’s all about organizing your downtime by making lists. Tap the + button and you can choose a category, search for something, and then add it to your collection. Using the sidebar, you can categorize items you add however you wish.
Because Sofa uses existing online data for items you add, it will automatically import cover art and synopses. For movies, music, and podcasts in particular, it works very well as a means to remind yourself about things you plan to check out – and of what you’ve already watched and listened to.
The app’s less impressive for books and games, but given the lack of a price tag (IAPs are for additional themes), and iCloud support to sync data between devices, Sofa’s a solid option when you want a fast, simple means to plan what media you’d like to experience in the future.
NetNewsWire is an RSS reader – a news aggregator that lets you subscribe to website feeds, and have headlines and articles beamed directly to the app. In fact, for many people, it’s the news aggregator, having been a big name in various forms since 2002.
This latest incarnation is open source and therefore free from a price tag. It’s also free from ads, IAP, and cruft. It’s less flashy than paid fare like Unread and Reeder, but has an elegant simplicity that sits well when you want a speedy no-nonsense experience that’s nonetheless friendly and usable.
Although gunning for efficiency, this app gives you all the most vital features: direct feed subscriptions, Feedly/Feedbin sync, dark mode, reader view, and feed import/export. In fact, it’s so good it might tempt you away from its premium-priced contemporaries.
Google News might seem redundant in the age of Apple News, but it serves a purpose. Like Apple’s equivalent, this free news app for iPhone learns as you use it, aiming to serve up stories you’ll be interested in. And in a similar fashion to Apple News, you can flag specific publications and topics you like to read.
Where Google News diverges from Apple is with the ‘full coverage’ button. Tap this and you can view a story across a range of publications, and check out a report’s timeline – useful in an era of increasingly partisan coverage.
Beyond that, there are many other reasons to make the app one of your go-tos for news: fast access to any source’s list of stories; the means to hide any publication; a regularly updated briefing; an optional daily news email; and a stripped-back, cruft-free reading experience.
GIFwrapped is designed for GIF obsessives. If you can’t get through an entire social media message without welding a looping animation to it, this is the app for you.
Universal search provides fast access to more GIFs than you could conceivably hope to use in several lifetimes, even if you tried very hard. It’s also possible to import your own Burst and Live Photos. Whatever you find can be saved to your local library; GIFs can then be shared from the app itself, or in Messages by using the GIFwrapped iMessage app.
For other use-cases, stashing GIFwrapped in Slide Over seems to work particularly well. And if you get very deeply into the app, affordable subscription IAP removes ads, powers up search, and lets you remove the watermark from shared GIFs.
Lake: Coloring Books
Lake: Coloring Books seems ideally suited to iPad owners who like dabbling in coloring – especially if they also own an Apple Pencil. The One A Day feature provides a daily freebie for 60 days, and each of the varied coloring books also offers you a free image to try your hand at.
The coloring experience is solid. Friendly tool panels sit at the side of the screen. You can quickly swap palettes or switch from a brush to a spray can. If you don’t want to go over the lines, a single button press gives you a hand there, too.
Beyond scribbling inside of someone else’s lines, you can make your own with a blank canvas option, and your masterpieces can be saved to a gallery, so you can later show them off online.
Twitterrific is a client for Twitter that wants you to use the social network on your own terms. This means you get a slew of customization options – and a much richer user experience – compared to when using the official Twitter app.
On iPad, this is very apparent on exploring the tabs at the top of the screen. You get five. Home returns you to your main feed, but the other four can be set to open anything from mentions to lists – it’s up to you. As is how the app looks, given its range of built-in themes.
Twitterrific excels elsewhere, too. Next to the search field is a Center Stage button, which you press to browse through media tweets. Muting and sync are fully supported. All of this is free, in return for a single unobtrusive always-on ad banner.
Infuse 6 enables you to watch your video collection – without first loading any of it onto your iPad. Instead, the app streams footage from files stored on local PCs, Macs, or network drives. Should you want to store some content on your iPad, though, Files integration makes that a cinch.
In fact, the interface throughout is superb – usable and sleek. It serves up not only your videos, but also cover art and background information – assuming you’ve named your files reasonably sensibly. Subtitles can be downloaded with a tap.
The free version doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles. Library/progress sync, streaming from cloud sources, AirPlay, and HD audio require a pro account, or the purchase of the standalone Infuse Pro 6. But even without these, you won’t find a better or more feature-packed free video player on your iPad.
Feedly bills itself as a smart news reader. However, rather than attempting to second-guess what you’d like to read, based on you having tapped a few vague category buttons, Feedly takes a more old-fashioned approach: subscriptions.
In short, using the magic of RSS, you (for free) subscribe to the newsfeeds of your favorite websites – anything from news corporations down to the most niche of blogs. New articles are then sent to Feedly, and can be read in-app.
If you fancy discovering content beyond what you usually read, there’s an Explore tab; but Feedly’s best when you’re curating what you end up checking out, through focusing primarily on sources you trust.
As an added bonus, if you like the idea but not the interface, a Feedly account can be used to power other RSS readers such as TechRadar favorite Reeder.
Pocket is a read-later app. What this means is that rather than ending the day staring at dozens of unread browser tabs, you fling items of interest in Pocket’s direction. It then converts them into a streamlined personalized magazine you can peruse at your leisure.
The default iPad interface is an appealing grid, and individual articles are stripped back to words and images. This can be a major improvement over the original websites, letting you delve into content without distractions.
A night mode flips colors late in the day, to ensure you don’t get eye strain, but Pocket also allows you to ‘read with your ears’. This turns your reading list into an on-the-fly podcast. It’s an odd experience, but it can be nice to work through your reading list while cooking, walking or driving.
Infuse 5 is a video player that lets you get at video from pretty much anywhere. This means if you have a massive video collection, you needn’t load it all on to your iPad. Instead, you can quickly copy across items as and when you want to play them – or just stream from local network storage.
This app isn’t unique in the field, but it’s friendly and sleek. Set-up is a breeze, and even when streaming from your local network, metadata (cover art; item information) is automatically downloaded. It’s also possible to download subtitles on the fly.
The free version has restrictions that require an annual subscription to unlock: some video/audio formats; AirPlay and Google Cast support; background playback; library sync. But as a freebie for anyone who wants to stream videos to their iPad, Infuse 5 really can’t be beaten.
Fiery Feeds is a full-featured RSS reader. If you’re unfamiliar with RSS, it enables you to subscribe to almost any website’s content. You’ll then in Fiery Feeds get a list of headlines whenever you open the app, ensuring you don’t miss articles from sources you trust.
Most free RSS readers are clunky, but Fiery Feeds bucks the trend with a sleek two-pane interface, and a slew of customization options. It feels modern, but gives you very direct control over what you read, unlike the likes of News or Flipboard.
There’s a paid tier, too – US$9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 per year – which unlocks additional features, including a ‘must read’ folder, a text view mode (which loads full articles for sites that otherwise only send you synopses), and custom actions. Whichever flavor you plump for, Fiery Feeds is well worth installing on your iPad.
VLC for Mobile
VLC for Mobile is an iPad take on the popular open source media player.
On iPad, it has two main uses. The first is offline playback. You can load up VLC with videos, and – broadly speaking – be secure in the knowledge it’s actually going to be capable of playing them. During said playback, you can fiddle with the picture and audio, and use gestures to skip through boring sections – or backwards if you missed a bit.
VLC is also good for streaming. You can stream movies from a PC or Mac right to your iPad, rather than having to sit in front of a computer like it’s 2005. The interface throughout is sleek and minimal (irritating zooming to the options sidebar aside), and impressive for a video streaming app that’s entirely free.
JustWatch solves one of the biggest problems with the way we consume television and movies. With streaming services and on-demand increasingly rendering traditional schedules redundant, the key is usually finding out where and how to watch something, not when.
JustWatch asks you to confirm your location and the services that interest you. If you’re still into the big screen, there’s a tab for currently showing movies, which makes it a cinch to access local showtimes.
But this app’s mostly about TV, providing filterable feeds that list popular shows and bargains – and where to find them. Select a show, tap on an icon, and you’re whisked away to the relevant app. Whatever you want to see, JustWatch makes reaching it a whole lot easier.
Letterboxd is an iPad take on a social network for film lovers. Sign up, and you can do all the usual following friends and bellyaching, only here you’re complaining about whether Blade Runner 2049 is 2049 times worse than the original, and who’s the best James Bond. If that sounds awful but you’re a film lover, Letterboxd has another use: the ability to log everything you’ve ever watched.
You can quickly assign ratings and ‘likes’ to your personal favorites, which are subsequently displayed as a grid of artwork that can be sorted and filtered. Beyond that, you can add tags, a review, and the date when you last watched the film. On the iPad’s large display, the entire app looks great – not least when you start checking out trailers of those films you’re keen to see.
Attenborough Story of life
If you’ve any interest in wildlife films, Attenborough Story of Life is a must-have. It features over a thousand clips picked from Attenborough’s decades-long journey through what he refers to as the “greatest story of all…how animals and plants came to fill our Earth”.
The app is split into three sections. You’re initially urged to delve into some featured collections, but can also explore by habitat or species, unearthing everything from big-toothed sharks to tiny penguins skittering about. Clips can be saved as favorites, or grouped into custom collections to later peruse or share with friends.
Some of the footage is noticeably low-res on an iPad – there’s nothing here to concern your Blu-Rays, and that’s a pity. Still, for instant access to such a wealth of amazing programming, this one’s not to be missed.
Chunky Comic Reader
The majority of comic-book readers on the App Store are tied to online stores, and any emphasis on quality in the actual apps isn’t always placed on the reading part.
But with many more publishers embracing DRM-free downloads, having a really great reading app is essential if you’re into digital comics. Chunky Comic Reader is the best available on iOS.
The interface is smart, simple and boasts plenty of settings, including the means to eradicate animation entirely when flipping pages.
Rendering is top-notch, even for relatively low-res fare. And you get the option of one- or two-up page views. For free, you can access web storage to upload comics. A single $3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99 pro upgrade adds support for shared Mac/PC/NAS drives.
- Check out the best iPad deals available now
Can’t figure out which iPad to buy? Watch our guide video below!
- For a mix of free and paid apps, check out our amazing Best iPad apps chart. If you’re more into a smaller form-factor or have your eye on the iPhone X check out our list of the best free iPhone apps.
- Haven’t bought an iPad yet and not sure which is best? We’ve got them listed on our best iPad ranking – or you can check out the best tablets list to see the full range available now. We’re also rounding up all the best iPad deals going right now.
- Are you a professional? Then our pick of the 10 best business apps should have something for you.
- Want a free app to keep your iPad safe? Check out the best free VPNs
The best free art and design apps for iPad
Our favorite free iPad apps for painting, sketching, drawing, graphic design and animation.
Charcoal is a sketchpad for people who don’t want complexity. Fire up the free iPad app and you can choose from three canvas sizes. When said canvas appears, it’s flanked by a selection of tools to the left, and a scrollable color picker to the right.
With a finger or an Apple Pencil, the tools prove responsive, and there’s a tactile ruler you can drag and twiddle about for laying down straight lines. And that’s about it – at which point you might ask after brush sizes, text tools, and layers.
To do so is to miss the point. Charcoal is basic on purpose. If you want an all-singing, all-dancing free digital sketching tool, Autodesk SketchBook fits the bill. But if that kind of app overwhelms you, Charcoal will scratch your digital drawing itch.
Vectornator X is a pro-grade vector art app for iPad that lacks a price tag, but has the kind of toolset that should appeal to everyone from jobbing artists and designers to people who just fancy transforming their favorite photos into sleek, poster-like works of art.
If you’re an illustrator, you’re well catered for with features that let you quickly work up projects with shapes, paths, type, and templates. Plentiful import/export options enable the app to be a mobile sketchpad for ideas you can then continue on the desktop.
But if you’re a mere norm, it’s worth picking up, too. Load a photo, select the Layers palette, unlock the layer, tap the photo on the canvas, tap the style tab, and then tap Auto Trace. Within seconds, you’ve gone from snap to vector art – and endlessly editable art at that.
FlipaClip wants to unleash your inner Disney animator. Set up a project and you gain access to a streamlined interface for crafting your own scribbly moving pictures. The toolset is straightforward, but with enough flexibility for nuance. The brushes have multiple sizes, there’s a selection tool for grabbing chunks of art, and a flood fill for quick coloring.
The layers system enables you to separate elements, such as line art and coloring. Grids and onion-skinning (to see previous frames faintly on the canvas) provide further aid as you put together your masterpiece. And audio capabilities ensure you’re not just making silent movies. It all feels rather swish and professional – but also approachable.
There are limitations on the free version of this iPad app, plus full-screen ads that obnoxiously spring up when you open a project. However, if these irk you, they’re easily removed with a one-off IAP.
Desyne makes it a cinch to quickly put together graphical layouts, which can then be used for flyers, posters and online banners.
You get started by picking a template. Unlike with many ostensibly similar apps, pretty much everything here can be edited. This means although you could just make a quick change to some text and export the result, you can also work with the built-in tools to fashion something radically different from what you started with.
The app of course locks a bunch of content behind subscription IAP, and welds a watermark to your creations – albeit only a small one in a corner. However, the free version has a lot going for it, not least fun stickers, a simple but powerful layers system, the means to save projects, and a range of export options.
Universe – Website Builder
Universe – Website Builder suggests you should be able to create a website in 60 seconds. That time scale’s a bit of a stretch, but Universe’s building-blocks system does make getting something online dead easy.
Each page is a grid. You drag out a section, and then decide what should fill it – a photo, text, social media buttons or video. You can start from scratch, or work with a theme. When you’re done, prod a button and your efforts are uploaded.
Should you want more pro-oriented features – analytics; a store; a proper domain – you’ll need to pay $9.99/£8.99/AU$14.49 per month. But for free, Universe is a usable, smart, simple way to get a personal website online, with little effort, and in a manner that feels entirely suited to the touchscreen.
Autodesk SketchBook is a drawing and sketching app. Toolbars sit at the screen edges, providing quick access to a slew of editable brushes, a comprehensive layers system, and tools for drawing shapes, adding text and manipulating selections. Flow and size sliders sit on the brushes palette, so you can easily adjust your brush’s properties.
Tap the full-screen button and most of the interface falls away, leaving you with your canvas, but brushes, color pickers and layers always remain within easy reach, accessed by pressing a small on-screen switch.
This means that with a little time spent getting used to the interface, SketchBook provides as much power as you need – and for no outlay whatsoever. That makes it a good bet whether you’re an occasional doodler, or a jobbing artist wanting something powerful yet usable for working on their iPad.
Unsplash is an app that gives you fast access to many thousands of images generously gifted to the Unsplash website by the photographic community. These photographs can be used entirely for free, for any purposes you wish, and can be modified as you see fit.
The app and available photographs are both rather good. You can search for something specific, browse new photos, or explore by themes. The large iPad display is the perfect lean-back way to look through dozens of images, flicking between them in full-screen mode.
It’s a pity there’s no download option, nor a means to follow specific photographers. But then this one’s all about effortlessness and immediacy, and knowing that whenever you do find something that inspires you, it can be downloaded to your iPad’s Photos app with a single tap.
Artomaton – The Motion Painter
Artomaton – The Motion Painter is a little like Prisma, in that it uses AI to transform photos into something that looks like it was painted or sketched. However, this isn’t a single-tap filter app; Artomaton wants to afford you at least some control over your creations.
To start with, you paint in the natural media effects to the degree you’re happy with. Do so lightly and you get the subtlest of sketches; cover every inch of the canvas and you end up with a more complete piece of art. Beyond that, there are plenty of settings to fiddle with.
The resulting images aren’t always entirely convincing in terms of realism, but they always look good. And although many materials are locked behind IAP, you get plenty for free.
We tend to quickly shift children from finger-painting to using much finer tools, but the iPad shows there’s plenty of power in your digits — if you’re using the right app.
Autodesk SketchBook provides all the tools you need for digital sketching, from basic doodles through to intricate and painterly masterpieces; and if you’re wanting to share your technique, you can even time-lapse record to save drawing sessions to your camera roll.
The core app is free, but it will cost you $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 to unlock the pro features.
The original Brushes app was one of the most important in the iPhone’s early days. With Jorge Colombo using it to paint a New Yorker cover, it showcased the potential of the technology, and that an iPhone could be used for production, rather than merely consumption.
Brushes eventually stopped being updated, but fortunately went open source beforehand. Brushes Redux is the result.
On the iPad, you can take advantage of the much larger screen. But the main benefit of the app is its approachable nature. It’s extremely easy to use, but also has plenty of power for those who need it, not least in the layering system and the superb brush designer.
The idea behind Canva is to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to creating great-looking layouts based on your photos. Select a layout type (presentation, blog graphic, invitation, and so on) and the app serves up templates to work with.
These are mostly very smart indeed, but the smartest thing about Canva is that these starting points can all be edited: swap out images for your own photos, adjust text boxes, and add new elements or even entire pages.
Because of its scope, Canva isn’t as immediate as one-click automated apps in this space, but the interface is intuitive enough to quickly grasp. Our only niggle is the lack of multi-item selection, but with Canva being an online service, you can always fine-tune your iPad creations in a browser on the desktop.
Pixel art editor – Dottable
Despite being lumbered with an awkward name, Pixel art editor – Dottable is a usable and nicely-conceived app. Choose a canvas size and then the interface is split between your drawing area, layers, and tools.
The basics are all there for creating old-school pixel art, but beyond brushes and fills, Dottable adds some fairly sophisticated shapes and transform tools.
If you want to trace an image, it can be imported, and optionally converted to pixel art form. Exports are also dealt with nicely, either exporting your image as a PNG, or converting each layer into a single frame of an animated GIF.
None of this is enough to trouble the pro-oriented Pixaki, but as a freebie for pixel artists, Dottable is mightily impressive.
One of the great things about the app revolution is how these bits of software can help you experience creative fare that would have previously been inaccessible, unless you were armed with tons of cash and loads of time. Folioscope is a case in point, providing the basics for crafting your own animations.
We should note you’re not going to be the next Disney with Folioscope – the tools are fairly basic, and the output veers towards ‘wobbling stickmen’.
But you do get a range of brushes (of differing size and texture), several drawing tools (pen, eraser, flood fill, and marquee), and onion-skinning, which enables you to see faint impressions of adjacent frames, in order to line everything up.
The friendly nature of the app makes it accessible to anyone, and there’s no limit on export – projects can be shared as GIFs or movies, or uploaded to the Folioscope community, should you create an account.
MediBang Paint feels like one of those apps where you’re always waiting for the catch to arrive. Create a new canvas and you end up staring at what can only be described as a simplified Photoshop on your iPad. There are loads of drawing tools, a layers system (including photo import), and configurable brushes.
Opening up menus reveals yet more features – rotation; shapes; grids – but palettes can also be hidden, so you can get on with just drawing. Judging by the in-app gallery of uploaded art, MediBang is popular with manga artists, but its tools are capable enough to support a much wider range of digital painting and drawing styles – all without costing you a penny.
PicsArt Animated Gif & Video Animator
You won’t trouble Hollywood with PicsArt (or PicsArt Animated Gif & Video Animator to use its unwieldy full name). However, it is a great introduction to animation and also a handy sketchpad for those already immersed in the field.
A beginner can start with a blank slate, paper texture, or photo background, on to which an animation frame is drawn. Add further frames and previous ones faintly show through, to aid you in making smooth transitions.
Delve further into the app to discover more advanced fare, including brush options and a hugely useful layers system. When done, export to GIF or video – or save projects to refine later. That this all comes for free (and free from ads) is astonishing.
The best free education apps for iPad
Our favorite free iPad apps for learning new things – from coding to astronomy.
Mission to Mars AR
Mission to Mars AR is an educational app about humankind’s exploration of the Red Planet, told through a range of photography, computer-generated imagery, quizzes and augmented reality experiences.
The last of those is the meat of the app – or at least its most interesting component. With the larger display of the iPad, you really become immersed as you explore the Martian surface, help Perseverance deal with hazards to complete objectives, and drive rovers across your desk or down your street.
The visuals are solid, and although the main interface feels a little like a blown-up portrait iPhone app, the AR components work well in landscape. In all, it’s a great mix of education and entertainment that’s a must-have download for anyone with an interest in our celestial neighbor.
Jonathan Yeo Studio
Jonathan Yeo Studio shows how augmented reality can be more than a gimmick. It provides a glimpse into the working life of the titular artist, in a manner that immerses you in his studio environment.
The studio can be projected onto a desk, or – if you’ve space – explored at full size, making you feel like you’re in the room. Either way, you can poke around various pieces of interactive content, or listen as Yeo chats with Jamie Oliver while painting his portrait.
This combination makes for an informative app for anyone with an interest in the visual arts, and it’s also an impressive technical achievement that shows how far apps of this ilk have moved on from merely giving you a handful of videos to watch.
Free iPad app Night Sky brings the planets and stars to your iPad, with gorgeous visuals and a rich feature set.
The basic view can be dragged around or be oriented by holding your iPad in front of your face. Illustrated constellation overlays appear and ‘melt’, and an expandable search box makes it a cinch to rapidly find and store favorite objects.
Once you’ve found something interesting, you can pluck it from the main view, explore the item in 3D, and share it with your friends. Twiddling constellations provides fuller insight into their depths and the distances between stars. With planets, you can land on them, to explore their night skies.
Grab a subscription and Night Sky takes things further with live sky tours and an AR orrery, but in its free form, it remains a generous and first-rate astronomy app.
Big Bang AR
Big Bang AR is an AR experience that blazes through 13.8 billion years of history in a matter of minutes.
It begins with your outstretched hand, which you turn into a fist, and then open up, only for the Big Bang to explode out of it – a neat trick, if a bit awkward when you’re holding an iPad in the other hand. After that point, though, it’s all rather wondrous as you find yourself surrounded by the earliest components of the universe, which eventually form into our solar system.
With narration by Tilda Swinton, the odd bit of interactivity, further reading sections, and a nice ‘we are all made of stars’ selfie at the end, Big Bang AR is a rather lovely example of an immersive, immediate educational experience for iPad.
Civilisations AR is an augmented reality app that puts over 30 historical artifacts in front of your face, ranging from an ancient Egyptian mummy to iconic modern art. It feels like a thoroughly modern way of exploring the past, enabling you to check out every nook and cranny of these famous objects.
Spin a globe to see where the items are from, then tap to select one and it will appear before you, ready to be resized and spun around. Discoverable hot-spots offer up more information by way of voiceovers.
Surprisingly, even paintings work really nicely in this app, enabling you to put your nose right up to the virtual canvas and inspect individual paint marks. An iPad display is big enough for you to truly appreciate these works of wonder.
JigSpace uses augmented reality (AR) to educate, by way of 3D models you can fiddle about with before your very eyes. Although the range isn’t exactly in Wikipedia territory, you get quite the variety of ‘jigs’ for free. There’s the anatomy of a trebuchet, a floating eye to fiddle around with, a manual car’s transmission, and many more.
JigSpace rapidly finds a flat surface onto which your object is projected. You can then pinch to resize it, or spin it with a swipe. Objects aren’t static either – many animate, and are gradually disassembled across a series of slides. For example, an alarm clock opens to show its gears and mechanisms – and because this is AR, you can check everything out from any angle.
Maybe it’s just our tech-addled brains, but often we find it a lot easier to focus on an app than a book, which can make learning things the old fashioned way tricky. That’s where Khan Academy comes in. This free app contains lessons and guidance on dozens of subjects, from algebra, to cosmology, to computer science and beyond.
As it’s an app rather than a book it benefits from videos and even a few interactive elements, alongside words and pictures and it contains over 10,000 videos and explanations in all.
Everything is broken in to bite-sized chunks, so whether you’ve got a few minutes to spare or a whole afternoon there’s always time to learn something new and if you make an account it will keep track of your progress and award achievements.
Py wants to teach you to communicate with computers. You provide some information about the kind of coding you fancy doing, and it recommends a course – anything from basic HTML through to delving into Python.
Lessons are very reminiscent of those in language-learning freebie Duolingo. A colorful, cartoonish interface provides questions, and you type out your answer or select from multiple choice options.
Py could be more helpful when you get something wrong, but its breezy, pacy nature gives it a real energy and game-like feel that boosts focus and longevity.
Unlike Duolingo, Py doesn’t have any interest in being free forever. A premium tier locks a chunk of content behind a monthly fee (along with access to mentors, who can help you through tough spots via an integrated chat). But for no outlay, there’s still plenty here for budding website – and app – creators to get stuck into.
Swift Playgrounds is an app about coding, although you’d initially be forgiven for thinking it a weird game. Early lessons involve guiding oddball cartoon cyclops Byte about an isometric landscape by way of typed commands, having him trigger switches and grab gems along the way.
This is, of course, sneakily teaching you the fundamentals of logic and programming, and the lessons do then gradually become more involved. However, at no point does Swift Playgrounds become overwhelming. And the split-screen set-up – instructions and code on the left; interactive world based on your work on the right – feels friendly and intuitive.
It’s not Xcode for iPad, then, but perhaps a first step in that direction. More importantly, Swift Playgrounds can act as a first step for people who want to start coding their own apps, but for whom the very idea has, to date, simply been too daunting.
Often, third-party apps improve on bare-bones equivalents provided as the ‘official’ take on a product, but Wikipedia is an exception. This freebie app for browsing the online encyclopedia is excellent on iPad – and probably the best option on the platform.
The Explore page lists a bunch of nearby and topical articles; after a few uses, it’ll also recommend things it reckons you’d like to read. Tap an article and the screen splits in two – (collapsible) table of contents to the left and your chosen article to the right. Articles can be searched and saved, the latter option storing them for offline perusal.
It’s a pity Wikipedia doesn’t rework the Peek/Pop previews from the iPhone version (by way of a long-tap), but otherwise this is an excellent, usable encyclopedia for the modern age.
Learning a musical instrument isn’t easy, which is probably why a bunch of people don’t bother, instead pretending to be rock stars by way of tiny plastic instruments and their parent videogames.
Yousician bridges the divide, flipping a kind of Guitar Hero interface 90 degrees and using its visual and timing devices to get you playing chords and notes.
This proves remarkably effective, and your iPad merrily keeps track of your skills (or lack thereof) through its internal mic. The difficulty curve is slight, but the app enables you to skip ahead if you’re bored, through periodic ‘test’ rounds. Most surprisingly, for free you get access to everything, only your daily lesson time is limited.
TED is a video app designed to feed your curiosity, by watching smart people talk about all kinds of subjects.
Although the organization’s name stands for ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’, it’s fundamentally interested in ideas. Example talks we watched during testing included a piece about screen time for kids (and why related fears are not true), not suffering in silence from depression, and mind-blowing magnified portraits of insects. What we’re saying is: this app has range.
It also has smarts. Along with a standard search, you can have the app ‘surprise you’ with something courageous, beautiful, or fascinating, and revisit favorites by delving into your watch history and liked talks, which sync across devices.
TED’s perhaps not an app you’ll open daily, but it’s a breath of fresh air when you desire brain food rather than typical telly.
The best free health, food and exercise apps for iPad
Our favorite free iPad apps for cooking, relaxing and keeping fit.
On the surface Jour looks like a simple journal, but it’s mainly designed to help you feel good. It achieves this by encouraging you to concentrate on recording (for later posterity) good things that have happened in your life, and by guiding you to different ways of thinking.
You’re encouraged to dip in daily to record bite-sized memories, and over time this daily reflection proves effective. Guided journeys further encourage you to shake up your thinking, and how you approach your life, enabling you to better track goals, combat anxiety, and – as the app puts it – “live your best life”.
No free iPad app is a magic wand, but by spending a few minutes every day with Jour, you’ll at least have a record of good memories, get into the habit of writing things down and reflecting on them, and more easily identify what brings you joy.
Oak – Meditation & Breathing
Oak – Meditation & Breathing is an app that wants you to relax. It’s split into sections for meditation, breathing, and sleeping. A stats area provides the means to track progress, with you gaining streaks and winning badges through regular use.
Meditations can be guided or unguided, catering for all skill levels, and although you don’t get the wealth of options available in some apps, you can adjust instructor gender, session duration, and background noise. The three breathing exercises cover relaxation, focus, and invigoration. And the Sleep section offers guided breath exercises designed to help you unwind.
On iPad, the interface betrays the app’s iPhone origins and could do with optimization for the larger display. Other than that, Oak’s pleasing and effective – and won’t surprise you a few weeks in with a stressful demand for IAP.
Tasty is a cookery app that wisely reasons modern-day cookbooks need to move beyond being digital equivalents of paper-based tomes. It achieves this by way of fast, filterable searches, and judicious use of video.
Rather than opening with a photo, your selected recipe instead initially shows the dish being made by way of a tightly edited video. Below that, you get an ingredients list (which can be exported), tips and step-by-step instructions.
Tap a button below the last of those and each step’s text and video loop is isolated – a great way, when cooking, to sanity-check you’re doing the right thing, and aren’t on the road to a culinary disaster.
Many of us are caught in high-stress environments for much of our lives, and electronic gadgets often do little to help. Apple has recognized this on Apple Watch, which offers a breathing visualization tool. But Breathe+ brings similar functionality to your iPad.
You define how long breaths in and out should take, and whether you want to hold your breath at any point during the cycle. You then let Breathe+ guide your breathing for a user-defined session length.
The visualization is reminiscent of a minimalist illustrator’s take on a wave rising and falling on the screen, but you can also close your eyes and have the iPad vibrate for cues. For free, there are some ads, which aren’t pretty, but don’t distract too much. For $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99, you can be rid of them, along with adding themes and usage history stats.
As you launch Kitchen Stories, you catch a glimpse of the app’s mantra: “Anyone can cook”. The problem is, most cooking apps (and indeed, traditional cookery books) make assumptions regarding people’s abilities.
Faced with a list of steps on a stark white page, it’s easy to get halfway through a recipe, look at the stodge in front of you, reason something must have gone terribly wrong, and order a takeaway.
Kitchen Stories offers firmer footing. You’re first met with a wall of gorgeous photography. More importantly, the photographs don’t stop.
Every step in a recipe is accompanied by a picture that shows how things should be at that point. Additionally, some recipes provide tutorial videos for potentially tricky skills and techniques. Fancy some Vietnamese pho, but not sure how to peel ginger, prepare a chilli or thinly slice meat? Kitchen Stories has you covered.
Beyond this, there’s a shopping list, handy essentials guide, and some magazine-style articles to peruse. And while you don’t get the sheer range of recipes found in some rival apps, the presentation more than makes up for that — especially on the iPad, which will likely find a new home in your own kitchen soon after Kitchen Stories is installed.
There are quite a few apps for creating ambient background noise, helping you to focus, relax, and even sleep. White Noise+ is perhaps the best we’ve seen – a really smartly designed mix of sound and interface design that is extremely intuitive yet thoroughly modern.
It works through you adding sounds to an on-screen grid. Those placed towards the right become more complex, and those towards the top are louder. Personalized mixes can be saved, or you can play several that are pre-loaded.
For free, you do get an ad across the bottom of the screen, only five sounds, and no access to timers and alarms. But even with such restrictions, White Noise+ is pretty great. Throw $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 at it for the extra features and noises, and it borders on exceptional.
Shortcuts is Apple’s revamp of automation utility Workflow. Its main goal is to save you time by performing complex tasks with simple interactions (such as a button tap), rather than going through a list of steps manually in multiple apps and websites.
There are two ways to approach Shortcuts. The first is to delve into the gallery’s dozens of premade actions. These include everything from calculating tips to saving documents as PDFs. Everything you download can be experimented with, or you can start from scratch and construct your own workflows in the user-friendly drag-and-drop interface.
This proves particularly effective on the iPad’s larger display, which gives you plenty of room to work. And this latest revamp makes workflows even easier to access, because you can trigger them using Siri voice commands.
Cheatsheet Widget is a notes app for all those little things that you need to remember – but never do. Its items are designed to be quick, glanceable fare (like phone numbers, codes and combinations and a few words) and are made easier to spot by twinning them with icons.
Your list is created in the Cheatsheet Widget app, but the list can also be displayed as a Today view widget. Items within the widget can be deleted, or their content copied to the clipboard – ideal for things like open network passwords.
For free, the widget will display four items from your list, and you can opt to always place new ones at the top. As of iOS 12, there’s a dark mode; and if you splash out on the one-off IAP, you also get iCloud cross-device sync, a Cheatsheet Widget keyboard, and no ads.
Bundler is a boon to anyone who regularly finds themselves having to collect a selection of files that then need to be sent elsewhere – a common task in many kinds of workplace.
Documents are added to ‘bundles’ using the Share sheet. In any compatible app, you share selected documents (or the current one) to Bundler and choose which bundle to place them in (or make a new one). On returning to Bundler, these documents can then be previewed and renamed. (In the latter case, ensuring your files have suffixes – JPG, TXT, and so on – is a good bet, or they aren’t always included on export.)
Sharing a bundle sends it to a location or app of your choosing as a ZIP archive. The process is sleek and simple, and the dual-pane view on iPad makes things even easier when you’re juggling a large number of files and bundles.
DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser
DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser is a browser designed to make the internet less creepy, preventing websites following you around the web. It blocks every hidden tracker it can find, uses the privacy-oriented DuckDuckGo for search, and rates websites you visit in terms of how much they care about your privacy.
It’s a combination of educational aid and web browser, and the latter bit isn’t half bad. It’’s a bit stripped-back compared to Safari, but you can still bookmark sites, open pages in tabs, and share content with other people. When you’re done, you can nuke your session’s search history with two taps.
Even if it doesn’t become your primary browser, DuckDuckGo is worth installing. It’s ideal for browsing sensitive data such as financial and medical records, safe in the knowledge you’re not being tracked by nefarious scripts.
Given the acres of space you get on an iPad display, it’s a bit odd that Apple’s own clock only provides a single timer. Fortunately, MultiTimer – as its name suggests – goes somewhat further by offering multiple options.
In fact, depending on the layout you choose, you can have twelve timers all ticking away at once. Each one of them can have its own icon, color and default time assigned, for those people who need to simultaneously exercise, boil eggs, and cook a turkey.
Smartly, the app works in portrait or landscape, and if you want a timer you can see clearly across the room, a single button press zooms it to fill almost the entire screen.
Should you want a bit more flexibility by way of multiple or custom workspaces, there’s a single IAP to unlock those features.
We’re not sure whether Slack is an amazing aid to productivity or some kind of time vampire. Probably a bit of both. What we do know is that the real-time messaging system is excellent in a work environment for chatting with colleagues (publicly and privately), sharing and previewing files, and organising discussions by topic.
There’s smart integration with online services, and support for both the iPad Pro and the iPad’s Split View function.
Note that although Slack is clearly designed with businesses in mind, it also works perfectly well as a means of communicating with friends if you don’t fancy lobbing all your worldly wisdom into Facebook’s maw.
The best free travel and weather apps for iPad
Our favorite free iPad apps for planning a holiday, currency conversion, weather forecasts and mapping.
SolarWatch Daylight Widget
SolarWatch is a clock and weather app with a difference. Although it provides a basic forecast with temperatures and conditions for the coming 24 hours, it’s primarily interested in what the light will do. The day is represented as a disc, orange areas denoting daylight and blue outlining when it’s night.
There’s nuance, with the app providing details of when civil first/last light will occur, along with nautical and astronomical equivalents. You get a beautifully designed widget for your home screen, and a pro option ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 per year) adds golden hour times for photographers, solar event alarms, and an AR solar path.
Whether you pay or not, this is a superb app for capturing light in your photos – and helping you make the most of the light in other ways.
Air Matters flips weather apps on their head. Whereas most provide details of current conditions, and the briefest of nods to air quality and allergens, Air Matters does the reverse. When you check this app’s map, you won’t see whether it’s rainy or sunny in a location, but will instead peruse readings for the likes of AQI (air quality index) and pollen.
For anyone with allergies, this is great stuff – but it gets better. Settings allow you to define a primary index, and alter which AQI standard is being used. In some locations, you get individual readings for pollen types, such as grasses, alder and birch.
And if you’re planning a trip overseas, AQI rankings are built right into this free iPad app, which tend to suggest checking out Kobe, Japan or Stockholm, Sweden – and probably avoiding built-up regions in India, China, and Egypt.
Saildrone Forecast – Weather
Saildrone Forecast – Weather wants to be an app you gawp at because it’s so stunning. Even as the app delivers the news that your afternoon’s going to be ruined by freak torrential rain, it will do so in a way that at least bathes your eyes in visual bliss.
The dark UI is stylish, and looks very smart as bright clouds billow across the landscape, chased by snaking animated lines on an optional wind layer. It’s good at the forecasting bit, too. There’s unfortunately no next-hour’s rainfall graph, but you can delve into graphs for the next two days’ temperatures, rainfall, and wind speeds.
Given the polish and elegance here, Saildrone feels premium. It’s therefore quite the surprise to discover not only that it’s free, but also that there aren’t even any ads.
Today Weather is weather forecasting aimed at iPad owners with an eye for style. Launch the app and it displays a photo to represent the current weather in your location. Below that, you’ll see a brief overview of current conditions. Scroll and you get an extended forecast and further details (including rainfall, air quality and wind speed), all rendered in almost painfully cool neon tones atop a dark background.
If the photo’s a bit much, you can get rid of it. Either way, this is a great weather app for a docked iPad, and even the sole ad can easily enough be scrolled off-screen. Neatly, there’s also something for when forecasts don’t quite gel with your own observations: if you don’t get on with Today Weather’s data source, you can switch it for Dark Sky, Accuweather.com, or YR.no.
Google Earth is about exploring our planet. Search for somewhere specific and the app swoops and dives to its target. Important landmarks are rendered in 3D that’s surprisingly effective – if you don’t zoom in too far.
This is an entertaining, tactile app that encourages investigation. You can drag and spin the screen, and flick through cards that point towards local landmarks. Fancy looking at something new? Hit the random button, or tap on the Voyager icon for stories based around anything from UNESCO World Heritage Sights to trekking about Kennedy Space Center.
The app is effortless to use, and the iPad’s large screen enables you to more fully breathe in the sights; the result is armchair tourism that’s far more effective than what you’d get even on the largest of iPhones.
Google Maps is an app that might seem an odd fit for an iPad, but we’d argue it’s an essential install. First and foremost, it’s much better than Apple’s Maps for figuring out journeys: Google Maps can more easily find points of interest, and ably deals with public transport information.
Local areas can be explored in terms of amenities (food, drink, and sometimes entertainment), and in a more direct sense, with the road-level Street View. The latter is a great way to familiarize yourself with a place before you visit.
If you always have your iPad on you, Google Maps can save maps for offline use as well, so you don’t even need an internet connection to use it. Alternatively, sign up for a Google account, and the searches you make will be synced with the app on your iPhone.
There are two things a good flight comparison apps needs to be: easy to use, and useful results. Broadly speaking, Momondo ably does the job in both cases.
Looking for flights is simple; the app allows a pleasing amount of vagueness regarding locations (including regions with multiple airports, such as ‘London’, or even entire countries, such as ‘New Zealand’), and it’ll happily enable you to search for singles, returns, or multi-city jaunts.
As search results gradually load in, the app points you to the cheapest and quickest options, along with what it considers ‘best’ when taking into account price, time and convenience. For some routes, a calendar graph lets you check nearby dates to see if you can snag a bargain.
Additional filters are available to further refine your results, and you can create an account to save favorites and receive fare alerts – plus hotel listing can be added in too, should you want a more comprehensive.
Townske seems to bill itself as an app akin to Foursquare – a place to find the best local cafes, restaurants, and sights in major cities. But really it’s more of a place where photo-bloggers can publish their unique take on amazing locations, thereby providing you with gorgeous photos and succinct chunks of writing to devour.
You can jump right into the main feed, or focus on a specific city. You then tap on a photo to open an individual story. Every one we tried was rich in superb imagery, with just enough text to add meaningful context without interrupting the flow of the visuals.
Neatly, you can tap a map icon to see where the various photos were all taken; and if you sign up for an account, favorite stories or individual images can be bookmarked for later. But even if you simply treat Townske as a regularly-updated lean-back digital take on a newspaper travel supplement, you can’t really go wrong.
With a native weather app bafflingly absent from iPad, you need to venture to the App Store to get anything beyond the basic daily overview Notification Center provides. Weather Underground is the best freebie on the platform, offering a customizable view to satisfy even the most ardent weather geeks.
Current conditions are shown at the top, outlining the temperature, precipitation likelihood, and a local map. But scroll and you can delve into detailed forecasts, dew point readings, sunrise and sunset times, videos, webcams, health data and web links. The bulk of the tiles can be disabled if there are some you don’t use, and most can be reordered to suit.
Although not making the best use of iPad in landscape, the extra screen space afforded by Apple’s tablet makes the Weather Underground experience a little more usable than on iPhone, enabling faster access to tiles. And for free, it’s a top-notch app, although you can also fling $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 at it annually if you want rid of the unobtrusive ads.
XE Currency is a currency converter that’s far from the prettiest of its kind – but it is useful and has all the right features.
Initially, it lists a few currencies, with the base one at the top. Tap an item in the list to select it as the new base currency; you can also adjust the base figure – tap on the number, and then enter something new in the calculator. The list of currencies can be changed at any point, and an item’s position adjusted by tap-holding and dragging it.
Beyond that, you can analyze rates, by punching in an alternate exchange rate, view graphs that outline rates for a pair of currencies over the past decade, and sign up to free rate alerts, which notify you when specific points are hit.