The best Apple iPad apps of all time: Media players, graphics tools and more


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Sarah Tew/CNET

It’s been 10 years since former Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad. The move firmly pushed tablets into the mainstream gadget conversation while leading many to ask, “What the heck is this giant iPod touch?” (Oh 2010, you sweet summer child.) In a review of the first-gen iPad that year, CNET described the device as “an elegant, affordable supergadget.” One of the main draws was how easy it was to access and navigate the apps on the 9.7-inch screen. 

Jobs said the iPad would define “an entirely new category of devices that will connect people with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.” He wasn’t wrong: 10 years later, the iPad’s portability, user-friendly interface and variety of apps have made it a favorite device in many homes, classrooms and offices. We use it for web surfing, reading, drawing, binge watching and sometimes even working. 

Read more: iPad 10.2-inch (2019) review: The case for the least expensive iPad

Apple separated iPadOS into its own platform last year, bringing the tablets closer to operating like a laptop — though for most people, the tablet isn’t ready to become a primary work device just yet. My CNET colleague Dan Ackerman dove into this topic in his commentary, Apple iPad at 10: Can we call it a computer yet?

Looking back on that first announcement (and how much we made fun of the name iPad), you can see the evolution of our expectations for the iPad and its apps. It briefly looked like the iPad would be the next frontier for magazines, with its large, high-resolution screen and interactive capabilities. That never came to fruition, but Apple is still betting on the format with Apple News Plus, a service for accessing top magazines and newspapers in one place for one monthly subscription fee. 

The iPad also held a lot of potential for mobile games and — unlike the expectations for magazines — that promise was fulfilled. Many of the most popular iPad apps today are games, and the Apple Arcade mobile game service now has more than 100 games you can download and play on the iPad and other Apple devices. 

We selected 25 apps that have turned the iPad into a useful tool for entertainment, reading, working and playing. Here are the top 10 — check out the rest in our full gallery of the best iPad apps of all time.

1. Netflix

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Angela Lang/CNET

The release of the first-gen iPad coincided with the expansion of Netflix’s movie and TV streaming service. The Netflix app on iPad allowed us to take our favorite shows with us everywhere we went, on a much larger screen than the iPhone — truly a game changer that helped push us into the streaming era. This became especially useful for parents, who can now hand an iPad to their kid to watch family-friendly Netflix shows in any room of the house, on road trips and in other places where a little bit of distraction could go a long way.

2. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

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Lori Grunin/CNET

With Lightroom, Adobe brought its desktop-standard photo editing to the iPad to use on the go. With a combination of free and premium features, Lightroom helps even professional photographers get important photo work done. With the advent of iPadOS, a recent update even lets you directly import photos into Lightroom from a memory card. 

3. Flipboard

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Robyn Beck/Getty Images

Flipboard is a curation tool that uses a combination of editors and algorithms to deliver news, videos and podcasts tailored to your interests. Founded in 2010, Flipboard was one of the first apps to take advantage of the iPad’s magazine-like layout. In the iPad app today, you can create Smart Magazines that bundle together articles and sources around your specific interests, like photography, technology or recipes. 

4. Amazon Kindle

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NurPhoto/Getty Images

The Amazon Kindle app for iPad helped open up the world of e-books, as it allowed people to purchase e-books on Amazon and read them on the iPad, instead of on a Kindle. You can’t buy books directly from the app on your iPad, but the Kindle books you buy from Amazon (including Amazon.com from your web browser on the iPad) will automatically appear in the Kindle app. 

5. Procreate

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Procreate is an art app made for the iPad and the Apple Pencil.


Procreate

An Apple Editor’s Choice winner, Procreate is an art app made for the iPad and the Apple Pencil, featuring ultra-high definition canvases, hundreds of virtual brushes, and many design and animation tools. It’s used by creative professionals, hobbyists and aspiring artists, who can import or export art as Adobe Photoshop files or in virtual any other format they’d like. Professionals who use the app view the combination of iPad, Apple Pencil and Procreate as a big upgrade to the digital tools of the past.

6. Star Walk

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Vito Technology

Winner of the Apple Design Award back in 2010, Star Walk is a detailed astronomy app that allows real-time tracking of the night sky and its stars, constellations, planets and more. The iPad app showed the benefits and potential of the device’s large, portable screen. When you launch the app and point your tablet at the night sky, you’ll see a labeled map of stars, planets, satellites and constellations from your location. 

7. Notability

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Ginger Labs

Another Apple Editor’s Choice award winner, Notability is a comprehensive note taking app that lets you combine typed or handwritten notes and drawings with audio recordings — taking advantage of the iPad’s capabilities as a digital notepad. For an extra cost, it will even convert your handwritten notes to text. 

8. Duet Display

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Rick Broida/CNET

Duet Display is an app that turns your iPad into a second monitor for your laptop, desktop or phone. Designed by former Apple engineers, the app can turn your tablet into a productivity tool, with full gesture support and customizable shortcuts. It also creates a Touch Bar on your tablet. The app works completely via software, so no cables or dongles are needed — and promises zero lag time.

9. YouTube

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Getty Images/Artur Debat

It’s another old standby, but the YouTube app on the iPad helped further the tablet’s reputation as a mobile content consumption platform. YouTube was one of the default apps on the iPad until iOS 6, when it moved to the App Store after Apple and YouTube parent company Google’s license to include it in iOS expired. Almost a decade later, it remains one of the most popular apps for the iPad — and along with other streaming video apps such as Disney Plus and CBS All Access, it makes the iPad a powerful mobile TV. (Disclosure: ViacomCBS is the parent company of both CNET and CBS All Access.)

10. LumaFusion

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LumaFusion

The most popular video-editing app for iOS, LumaFusion proved that iPads can be great not just for watching videos, but for making them. The app is a multitrack video editor used by professional video producers, filmmakers and journalists. It has six video and audio tracks for photos, videos, audio, titles and graphics. It also lets you add and layer effects and color corrections — all from your iPad.

For more, check out our list of the best iPhone apps of last year.

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