BLADE ILLUSTRATION/ TOM FISHER Enlarge
I've been a gadget fanatic since before I could haltingly pronounce "gadget," and technology is incorporated into every hour of my waking life in one way or another.
But I remember that the first time I held a modern tablet PC was something extra-special. It was as if a bit of technology from 20 years in the future had fallen through a time warp and into my hands.
Apple's iPad typifies this tech revolution, and the company has just released the iPad Mini and an upgraded full-size iPad. They're powerful, sleekly futuristic devices, and if you've recently bought one, or you've put one on your wish list, then you'll be needing some apps.
For Apple newcomers, there are some apps to try right away.
GarageBand ($5 in iTunes) is a music-making app, and its playable instruments will amuse and amaze you, showing how powerful a touch screen can be.
Amazon's Kindle app (free) works beautifully for reading and syncs with e-books you may already have bought from the company.
Apple's free iBooks is also a good e-reader app, with a touch more panache in its graphics. Apple's Pages ($10) is a touch-screen alternative to Microsoft Word. Finally, The Elements:
A Visual Exploration ($14) is so rich in detail and graphics that it could make you rediscover the fun of chemistry.
Games are perhaps the best way to explore the power of a new tablet. New iPad Mini owners may enjoy an old classic: Mirror's Edge ($10). This game is set in a dystopian future in which you play a free-runner who leaps and slides across a city's rooftops. It made its debut as a beautiful console game years ago, and athough the gameplay was simplified for the iPad, it's still visually amazing. It's fun to control too, requiring carefully timed swipes on the screen. You'll also get a kick out of seeing this powerful game run on a tablet that's so tiny. A newer app that Apple has been promoting recently is the $4 game LostWinds2: Winter of the Melodias. In some ways it's similar to Mirror's Edge, requiring deft taps and swipes to control your character as you explore a fantasy world. But this game is a lot more endearing and has moments of gameplay that'll make you grin with satisfaction at your achievements and at the storyline.
IPad 4 owners, with their Retina-display tablets, will get a kick out of the amazing Wild Blood ($7). It's a role-playing game set in Arthurian times, and its 3-D graphics are extraordinary — right down to leaves tumbling from trees and the flapping wings of a dragon. With an app this complex you have to put up with occasional pauses as it loads content, and it eats up a lot of your iPad's internal storage. But it's worth it to be able to play a tablet game that looks like it belongs on something as powerful as a PlayStation or Xbox.
For a totally different type of game with simpler but equally beautiful graphics, try Contre Jour ($1). This app is all about using the touch screen to gently move your tiny, monocular character around an eerie world full of magical tentacles and airborne energy sparkles. There's some physics-based play in there and a soundtrack so calming it's available as a separate album.
The experience of watching a video on a tablet is also something special — it's like holding a movie in your hands. Google has not yet released an official iPad YouTube app, so Jasmine (free) is currently the best YouTube app you can use. It lets you log in to your YouTube profile to access playlists, and its many other useful features include the ability to keep playing a clip's audio when you leave the app, making it great for casual music listening. The YouTube rival Vimeo's official iPad app (also free) is a pleasure to use and is designed to be clear and simple. This app even has a built-in video recorder and editor, so you can create and share clips easily.
Since we're talking about video recording, consider that one great way to show off your new iPad is via its high-quality cameras. For fun, check out MiniatureCam ($1), an app that applies effects to videos or photos that make them look like recordings of tiny models instead of the real world. It has well-designed controls and is surprisingly powerful for its low cost.
Lastly, it's always nice to talk about the weather. My new favorite weather app, which looks fabulous on the iPad's screen thanks to its high level of detail, is WeatherMap(PLUS) ($3). This app is all about showing you map-based graphical weather predictions — and as such it requires a bit of thought to understand it. But it'll definitely satisfy your inner geek more than the mere cloud symbols that other apps offer.
With either a big or small iPad — enjoy these apps, and your little slice of future tech.
Navigon's very popular navigation app for the United States is now available for Windows 8 phones at $50 in their app store. But take note: Text-to-speech doesn't work yet — it's coming in a future update. ... The cloud storage app Box has just been upgraded to version 2.0 on Android (free ), bringing with it the ability to view documents directly in the app.