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Got an iPad? Want to know the best iPad-only apps? Read on…

When the iPad first arrived, it was dismissed by some people as “just a big iPhone”. That criticism is quite baffling, because that’s one of the iPad’s strengths – providing the same great immersive touchscreen experience, but on a bigger canvas.

As the iPad has evolved, so too have the apps available for it. Increasingly, the iPad is positioned as a device for richer interactions. This leads to some apps more closely mirroring desktop equivalents, turning the iPad into a capable productivity machine; elsewhere, media apps and games make use of the iPad’s bigger display to more fully engage the viewer.

One other change that’s happened in recent years, though, is a big downturn in the number of iPad-specific apps. They used to be commonplace, but now universal apps (which work on iPhones and iPads) are the norm. But there are still some exclusives available for the iPad, and the eight we’ve listed here are among the very best things you can install on your Apple tablet.

Affinity Photo

$20/£20 • v1.6.9 • 901.3 MB • By Serif Labs

On the desktop, Photoshop is a kind of default for people who want to get into serious image editing. On iOS, there had over the years been a number of impressive, usable apps for working on photos, but nothing with that sheer level of power – until Affinity Photo arrived.

The app’s in fact not a newcomer in the strictest sense. Affinity Photo appeared first on the Mac, and there’s also a version for Windows. But the iPad take is by far the most audacious, primarily because it effectively is the desktop version, albeit with an interface cleverly optimized for the touchscreen.

The scope of the app is incredible. Photographers get desktop-class RAW editing. Creative types get powerful layers, selection, and brush features. When you want some digital bling, there are live effects and type controls too. Naturally, this means Affinity Photo isn’t the most immediate of apps; but hunker down with some tutorials, and you’ll soon be on the path to mastering the iPad’s greatest app for unleashing your creative side.

Download Affinity Photo

Fugue Machine

$10/£10 • v1.4.1 • 9.2 MB • By Alexandernaut

The iPad’s not in short supply of apps for making music, but Fugue Machine does something that’s unique. Inspired by composition techniques used in Baroque music and Serialism (such as Bach’s canons and fugues), this sequencer is all about manipulating a basic melody’s speed, pitch, and direction, and having you play multiple variations simultaneously. It’s simple even for newcomers to fashion something beautiful.

Plenty of examples are built in, but you can start with a blank canvas. Do so and you’ll see a playhead that loops across the kind of piano roll grid you might be familiar with from GarageBand. Tap and drag out notes and you’ll have a custom loop playing. Tap the playhead’s note button and you can adjust its octave, velocity, and pitch values.

The really interesting bit happens when you tap on one of the other three musical notes, experiment with the settings, and tap play. Before long, you’ll have four playheads darting about a tiny composition, creating hidden melodies and complex patterns. Whether a beginner or a pro, you should find Fugue Machine intuitive, immersive and beguiling.

Download Fugue Machine

Chunky Comic Reader

Free or $4/£4 • v2.5.4 • 225.9 MB • By Michael Ferenduros

Because an iPhone is the device you have on you all of the time, chances are you use it for reading, whether browsing the web, creating your own digital newspaper, or reading novels when paper books aren’t practical. Comics, though, are another matter – that much more visual medium demands space. And although there are comic readers for iPhone, none match Chunky for iPad.

The app’s free, although you can pay a few bucks to support the developer and unlock the ability to connect to Mac/PC shared folders and FTP servers. Otherwise, you can load CBZ, CBR, CBT and PDF documents from cloud storage services or the built-in web browser. Comics can then be read in portrait or landscape, the latter providing the means to expand a single page view to a full spread.

What really sets Chunky apart from its contemporaries, though, is the finer details. Upscaling and auto-contrast ensure lower-res and faded comics look great. And there are loads of other settings to tinker with, enabling Chunky to become a personal reading experience, rather than a prescriptive one.

Download Chunky Comic Reader


Free or $30/£30 • v3.5.18 • 120 MB • By LiquidText, Inc.

Apple’s spent a lot of time promoting the iPad’s credentials as a tool for productivity. But to many people, this means echoing what you already find on the desktop. LiquidText, though, reimagines document editing, in a manner that makes sense for the touchscreen; furthermore, in key ways it obliterates its PC-based competition.

At its most basic, LiquidText is a document reader and editor. You can load and search PDFs and Microsoft Office documents, highlighting bits of interest. But the app also has a sidebar in which to pull out key facts and comment on them. Go pro and these capabilities hugely expand. You can have multiple documents within a single project, and use on-screen inking to jot down notes and add context to your scribbles.

When researching, writing or editing, LiquidText is a boon. You can collapse documents to focus purely on highlights or search results, and have ink connections be live, dynamic links to relevant parts of connected documents. Instead of aping the desktop, then, LiquidText is the kind of app that’ll drive you from a PC or Mac to an iPad when you want to get some serious work done.

Download LiquidText

Earth Primer

$10/10£ • v1.0.3 • 194.1 MB • By Chaim Gingold

The iPad’s relative screen acres have made it an ideal platform for interactive books. More often than not, these provide you with branching narratives and quite a lot of 360-degree photographs. But Earth Primer’s much lighter of content and heavier on the interaction – probably due to being created by someone more famous for their work in gaming.

The book begins with you exploring the planet’s interior. Although some of the virtual pages are effectively slides with pretty pictures and a few words, many have you directly manipulating the landscape. For example, you in one scene cause volcanic eruptions with your fingertips, and in another discover how obliterating a mountain range affects nearby vegetation.

A really smart bit is how all this education builds to something. There’s a freeform sandbox, within which you can use brushes to build mountains and rivers, and prod buttons to bake or freeze the landscape. But the controls only exist when you’ve read through related chapters. Top stuff for ‘children’ of all ages!

Download Earth Primer


$10/£10 • v1.5.14 • 179.8 MB • By Subset Games

The success of iPhone gaming was a surprise, but iPad took things much further. You still get a touchscreen interface that can be anything, but the larger screen adds scope for more immersive, richer gaming experiences.

FTL (Faster Than Light) in many ways feels like the epitome of iPad gaming. Although technically a port of a PC title, it feels at home on iPad, as you attempt to lead a starship to safety, jumping between sectors while being pursued by rebels and attacked by pirates. It makes sense to tap crew members and prod where on your ship you want them to head, or drag across a system to power it up.

But it’s FTL’s endlessly replayable nature that should cement its place on your home screen. Star systems are procedurally generated, and so every game is different; yet you’ll recognize beats, and figure out new approaches for dealing with problems. The game’s also geared to being paused – in fact, it’s often beneficial to take stock and strategize during frenetic moments. This all makes it ideal fodder for odd half-hours of downtime with your iPad.

Download FTL


$12/£12 • v1.2 • 236.9 MB • By Opal Limited

Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers have carved out quite a niche on iOS, rethinking the nature of ambient music. The pair’s Bloom is akin to making music in a minimal pool of water, whereas Reflection takes Eno’s work to its logical conclusion – a generative, endless album that constantly shifts and changes, like a river.

Scape has something in common with both of those apps, but is more directly compositional in nature. However, this is a world away from the likes of GarageBand. To make a new sonic space, you simply combine and move elements on the canvas.

Your ‘scape’ remains dynamic at all times – making adjustments shakes up the mood and what’s being played. But whenever you create something that’s suitably interesting or pleasing, it can be saved. Should that feel like a bit much effort when you just want to relax, you can check out the 15 bundled scapes instead. In a sense, your 12 bucks gets you an ambient music-making machine with a free Brian Eno album – or, depending on your inclination, the reverse!

Download Scape

Swift Playgrounds

Free • v2.1 • 253.3 MB • By Apple

We’re still some way from being able to make iOS apps on iOS devices. You can’t yet download a version of Xcode from the App Store – although we’re sure that’s only a matter of time. Until then, anyone who fancies getting their coding on could do a lot worse than grab a copy of Swift Playgrounds.

Apple’s app makes use of the iPad’s large screen, carving it in two. On the left is where your code resides. On the right are the interactive playgrounds you manipulate with your coding wizardry.

There’s no assumption made about prior knowledge. Although you’re likely to get through the app’s exercises a lot more – ahem – swiftly if you’re already well-versed in programming, their user-friendly nature makes them suitable for the beginner too.

With an emphasis on inclusivity and touchscreen design, the app’s a great showcase for the iPad, but also for Apple’s ability to make a subject that can be baffling and dry humane and fun.

Download Swift Playgrounds

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