10 iPad apps to make Android users jealous

'Coffee table' apps to show off your iPad

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Even now, more than a year after the original iPad was released, it retains that incredible wow factor. Wherever you use it, people's eyes are drawn, mesmerised by the mere sight of the thing.

But your friends and family will soon get used to the fact that you've got one, and their initial excitement will start to ebb away. Unless, that is, you can load up some apps that transform the iPad in to a jaw-dropping slab of inspiring and astonishing tech.

Rather than leave you to trawl the App Store and spend your money trying out a big range of apps, we've selected 10 of the finest there are, all of which beautifully showcase what the iPad can do.

When you've got people round, pop these apps together in a folder on your iPad's Home screen and stick it on your coffee table, much as you would with a book of beautiful photography. Then sit back and watch them 'ooh' and 'aah' over it all over again!

Now before you turn to the shopping list and baulk at the fact that these 10 apps combined cost just shy of £50, note that several are free or less than a fiver. It's also important not to lose sight of how cheap apps on the App Store are compared to, say, a round of drinks at most bars or pubs these days. And unless you're the world's most determined sipper, these apps should last you a fair bit longer.

If you've got an iPad 2, remember that it already has some impressive apps on it when you get it out of the box - we know all about the video calling with FaceTime, and Photo Booth is good for some fun with friends and family. One word of warning: your friends may be so impressed by what's on show that you're unlikely to get much conversation out of them of them for a while. Well, until you physically drag your iPad from their grasp!

01. GarageBand
Price: £2.99
Works with: iPad

Nothing quite showcases what the iPad's capable of as well as GarageBand. For the cost of a coffee at a high street chain, you get a full recording studio on your iPad. A whole recording studio!

And don't worry if you've never touched a guitar in your life - Apple proudly splashes the fact that you don't need any prior musical experience all over GarageBand's page on the App Store. And it's true.

Garageband

What makes this possible are Smart Instruments, which can help you sound like a guitar, bass, keyboard or drum maestro without ever having played a note. With the guitar, you can fingerpick, bend the strings and automatically strum chords in a variety of rhythms and styles, depending on how many fingers you put on the screen.

On the keyboard, the app looks at what key you've set and presents you with a number of complementary chords, which you can play with a single tap. Smart Drums let you lay down a beat just by dragging percussion onto a grid.

This is all well and good for beginners, but if you've already spent many hours honing your skills on your SG, Rhodes, P-Bass or whatever else you may play, those efforts won't go to waste. You can play your instrument directly into GarageBand, using either your iPad's built-in microphone, or an appropriate adapter (such as the IK Multimedia iRig for guitars).

For guitarists, GarageBand comes with nine different amps you can drive your riffs through - which makes the app a worthwhile purchase in itself.

If keyboards are more your thing, you can play your tunes on the iPad's on-screen effort, which uses the accelerometer to provide surprisingly good touch-sensitivity. There are 72 keyboard and synth sounds to choose from - not a huge number compared to some 'real' keyboards, but plenty to play around with nonetheless.

Nothing quite beats playing the real thing, though, and GarageBand allows you to hook up your full-size keyboard over USB using the Apple Camera Connection Kit (which will set you back £25).

Whichever instrument you're tapping away on, you can hit the Record button at any time to lay down your creation, aided by a metronome. This then appears in an eight-track sequencer, where you can mix several instruments together, adjusting their volume to create your masterpiece.

It's just a shame you can't alter individual notes - if you get one wrong, you'll need to re-record the track in question.

It's not all about the instruments, though - let's not forget the vocals. Use the iPad's microphone to sing your dulcet (or raucous) tones into the app and add them to your creation. Then, when you're all finished, share the track directly from your iPad in AAC format, export it to iTunes and listen on your PC or Mac, or keep the GarageBand file intact and continue working on it in its sister app for the Mac.

Granted, if you're a pro musician, there are better alternatives out there that provide more flexibility and are therefore more suitable for you. But because they're aimed at the high-end market, they won't have the same impact as GarageBand does when your less musical friends and family try them out.

02. Star Walk for iPad
Price: £2.99
Works with: iPad

Even if astronomy's not your thing, you can't fail to be impressed by Star Walk. How much it'll do depends on what device you're using it on, because it's designed to take full advantage of the camera and gyroscopes in the iPad 2 (and iPhone 4 and latest-gen iPod touch).

But even on the original Wi-Fi-only iPad, the app's still got the ability to mesmerise anyone who gets their hands on it. It pinpoints your location in the world using the GPS or nearby Wi-Fi networks, depending on which model iPad you have.

Star walk

Adding that information to the current time and date, it works out what stars you'll currently be able to see. Point it at the sky, and using the iPad's digital compass you'll see a virtual starscape on your screen.

It gets even better when you start move around - you'll see that the view pans with you, highlighting what constellations you should be able to make out.

To help you visualise what are - let's be honest - sometimes quite contrived shapes, Star Walk includes an outline of what the group of stars is named after: a lion for Leo, and so on. There's also some information for each constellation and a link to read more on Wikipedia.

On the iPad 2, the app feeds through the live image from the camera and overlays it with the app's virtual sky, giving you an even better idea of what you're looking at. It's a beautiful app that really brings the sky to life.

03. The Elements: for UK & Ireland
Price: £7.99
Works with: iPad

Now if only we'd had The Elements during chemistry lessons at school. OK, so it isn't as exciting at watching sodium burning or hydrogen exploding, but there's a veritable Au-mine [you're Boron us - Ed] of information here about every known element in the universe.

Tap one of the animated icons in the periodic table and you'll see a rotating example of something related to that element - think a gold nugget, a lead pipe or neon light. Using real-life objects helps move the elements away from being just letters and numbers and makes them come alive.

The elements

There are further zoomable and rotatable examples of each element along with fascinating little snippets of information. We've lost count of all the 'I never knew that' moments the app has provided us with. Did you know that you can get pacemaker battery cases that contain plutonium? We didn't.

Of course, there's all the scientific data you could ask for, such as the atomic weight and density of each element and its boiling and melting points. We were also intrigued by the data that shows what percentage of the universe, sun, Earth's crust, oceans and humans are made up of each element. Should you still need to know more, there are links to the Wolfram Alpha database.

What makes the whole thing so good are the words that tie it all together. Author and columnist Theodore Gray's writing is at the same time informative and entertaining, peppered with interesting tidbits of knowledge (one of which we actually put to use in a recent pub quiz). It's more like he's telling you a story than you're reading a book about scientific data.

Our only gripe is that the main periodic table gives so much prominence to the graphics that the element letters are too small, though there is an alphabetical listing you can browse.

4. 50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic
Price: £2.99
Works with: iPad

50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic is like having one of those books of beautiful photography on your coffee table, but at a much lower cost. It contains 50 of National Geographic's best shots from around the world, showcasing both natural wonders and humanity.

There really is something here for everyone, from long exposures on board a plane coming in to land to a shot of the Titanic wreck and an eye-opening image of a shark caught in a fishing net. What makes it all the more powerful are the explanations of the context in which the photo was taken, from the mouths of the photographers themselves. In some cases, you even get additional images from the photoshoot or related videos.

National geopgraphic

As well as browsing the images by thumbnail, a tappable world map lets you explore them based on where they were taken. There are also some fascinating browsable timelines of key photography landmarks over the years.

While some images are more striking than others, it's nothing if not thought-provoking.

5. Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime
Price: £1.79
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

Rather than just reading your children nursery rhymes, why not make the whole thing more interactive by letting them play with the characters in the verses you're reciting? Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime is a beautifully designed and cleverly implemented app which lets your little ones drag Jack and Jill back up the hill, chop off the three blind mice's tails or share out the three bags full of wool.

Real attention has been paid to the detail - one of our favourites is the sparkly trail you see as you drag the smiling twinkling star around the night sky, lighting up the rhyme's words. On top of that, there are sound effects in there, too.

Nursery rhymes

One of the best parts of the app is StoryTime, which allows you to read the nursery rhymes to your kids from anywhere in the world, using an iPad or iPhone 4/3GS - yet another example of the innovation we're seeing from developers of iOS apps.

At the time of writing, there were seven nursery rhymes included, which may seem a small number, but another three are imminent.

6. Phaidon Design Classics
Price: £11.99
Works with: iPad

Phaidon Design Classics is a collection of classic industrial designs from the last two centuries that might seem expensive by iOS app standards, but there's 1,000 items to browse. (The hardback original ancestor of this app is a three-volume behemoth that costs a hundred pounds, so that £12 price tag looks like a positive bargain!)

Browsing through the app's Cover Flow-like display, you'll come across countless items you'll have used or consumed. The vast range includes often-seen items like household scissors, park benches and the dartboard, as well as the predecessors of modern items, including the Model T Ford and an old Leica camera.

Each comes with a description of how the design came about and its significance, while some even include additional related pictures. We've had to tear ourselves away from it to write this, because we could have sat browsing all day.

7. djay
Price: £11.99
Works with: iPad

Ever fancied trying a bit of scratching or mixing your favourite tracks together, but shirked away at the price of decks and vinyl?

Well djay brings the experience to iPad in style. An uncluttered mixing desk with two turntables has all you need within easy reach, including individual volume controls, beats per minute (BPM) displays for the tracks, sliders to adjust the speed and a crossfader.

Pull in music from your library and the artwork appears on the vinyl, so you need only glance at it to know which you're about to scratch. Up top, there's a waveform for the track, which zooms in as you turn the record around to cue it up to the right place.

If you have the correct adapter, you can split your audio output so that you can cue up the following track while your revellers dance away to what's playing now. Remember, though, that DJing is a skill that needs practice, so have a go by yourself first before you try it out in front of your friends!

08. The Guardian Eyewitness
Price: Free
Works with: iPad

If you love showing your friends and family your books of glossy photography, you'll love this free app from The Guardian.

Unlike the National Geographic app, which is a static collection, Eyewitness delivers a new image every day. The shots are a combination of architecture, wildlife and edgy news images, and at any one time there are 100 to leaf through.

There's a description with each, though we often found ourselves wishing that there were more details, such were the questions they raised in our minds. Oh, and for aspiring photographers, there's a related Pro Tip with each shot from sponsors Canon.

You can banish the control bar and description by tapping the screen, so as to enjoy each wonderful photo in all its glory, and there's also a slideshow mode to relax and enjoy.

09. Flipboard
Price: Free
Works with: iPad

What makes Flipboard so good isn't just the fact it provides you with a customisable news and social networking hub, but the way in which it's done. The clue's in the title - choose one of the preinstalled categories, such as news, and then flip through the selection of articles.

It works smoothly, is beautifully laid out and generally just looks, well, stunning. It gets really good when you start customising the front screen, removing the things that don't interest you and adding your own sections. These could be your Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Flickr or Instagram accounts, as well as custom news searches, blogs or individual Twitter feeds.

Once you've customised, sit back with the iPad and immerse yourself in the content (and get used to the way it all works, but this won't take too long). One of our favourite features is the way it pulls in images that people have shared on Twitter - no need to view the individual tweet or an external website.

10. Art Authority for iPad
Price: £5.99
Works with: iPad

Art lovers, listen up. You've no need to step out of the door to browse your favourite paintings. And before you point out that all you need do is step over to your bookshelf, you'd need one heck of a library to house all the images that Art Authority has packed in here.

It's a seriously impressive collection of artists, and for each, an incredible catalogue of their work. Browse pictures in a frame-on-a-wall mode (and see where each is displayed in real life) or blow them up to fullscreen and enjoy them in all their glory.

Our only real criticism is the time it takes to load everything up, but the sheer amount of content here means we can forgive it this.

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First published in Tap! Issue 05

Liked this? Then check out Top 200 best iPad apps 2011

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