by Adario Strange, mashable.com
December 26th 2013 4:05 PM
What usually follows is five to 10 minutes of marveling over the care and consideration Apple design chiefJony Ive put into the packaging. That includes playing with those tiny plastic doodads you’ll inevitably have to discard at some point.
But that was all just a tease leading up to the good stuff. Finally, after all the highfalutin commercial spots, media hype about supply shortages and unsuccessful attempts by competitors to sully the iPad's image, you finally have one of your very own. Now you’re just wondering how to harness all that pencil-thin tablet power sitting in your hands.
Rest assured, we have several suggestions designed to get you successfully up and running with the most popular tablet on the market.
The good news: Aside from certain size-dependent apps, the setup and experience for the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini are almost identical. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on those with a Wi-Fi version of the device.
After selecting your language and country preferences, pick a Wi-Fi network and enable your location services. Then, you’ll be prompted to either sign up for iCloud (Apple’s online backup storage service) or sign into your existing iCloud account. Of course, you also have the option of simply ignoring this prompt, after which you can immediately begin using your iPad.
Apple’s iOS 7 comes with a wealth of preinstalled services, including iWork and iLife, which offer a wide array of productivity and communication tools. But when it comes to apps, everyone has a different idea of "essential." We suggest the following if you truly want to boost the functionality of your new tablet.
Google Maps: Yes, Apple has its own maps app, which is quite beautiful. But let’s be honest, when you’re on the go, you don’t have time for "good enough" — you want the best. Google Maps (free in the Apple app store) is one of the top mobile map solutions for iOS.
GoodReader: Using the iPad like a traditional laptop or desktop can be frustrating due to its mobile-first operating system, which doesn’t offer a robust file management system. GoodReader ($4.99) stores PDFs, books, images and a wide range of text documents in a file system similar to that of a traditional desktop or laptop operating system. If you’re managing serious text and documents on the iPad, especially if you aren’t using a cloud service, GoodReader can be a lifesaver.Twitter: Just a few years ago, it would have been a stretch to call Twitter an essential app. But with this free app, the 24/7 news cycle is just a tap away, and it's an easy way to share your story if you find yourself a witness to a major event. (Personally, I prefer Tweetbot ($2.99), which offers more functionality, but either will serve your tweeting needs just fine.)
Lookout: Apple packed a lot of power into the iPad’s svelte design, making it one of the most powerful, light and thin tablets on the market. Unfortunately, that enhanced portability also means that the iPad is pretty easy to lose while traveling or commuting. Lookout is a free app that helps you find a lost device by sounding an alarm and automatically backing up your contacts.
Apple also offers Find My iPhone, another useful security app. However, Apple’s app requires the use of iCloud, a stipulation that could hold back users uninterested in opting into Apple’s cloud storage system.
Now that we have the essentials out of the way, it's time time to have some fun. Of the over 350,000 native iPad apps in Apple's App Store, you'll never run out new games, productivity tools and utility apps to try on your own, but before you dive in, we recommend that you give these popular apps a try first.
YouTube: Like Google Maps, YouTube is no longer a native part of iOS, but it's still one of the best ways to watch and share videos on your iPad. The iOS 7 version of the free app is extremely slick and shows off just how much work Google put into streamlining its suite of apps.
Skype: Walking around with the thin slab in your hands and talking to someone on the other side of the world is like holding a magic mirror. It’s a free download, so you have no excuse for not experimenting with the video messaging app.
Tablet SwagAmazon Kindle App: Apple’s iBooks app is not good, it’s great. From the realistic page scrolling to its myriad interactive book features, iBooks is a winner. However, many of us have already spent a good deal of money buying e-books via Amazon's platform, so switching over might not be so easy. Thankfully, Amazon isn’t playing the walled garden game and has a well designed free Kindle app for the iPad that works well on Apple’s mobile operating system.
After a fair share of iPad accessory hunting, it’s still all about the cases and keyboards. Cases for the iPad generally fit into one of three distinct categories: cases built for productivity, toughness or style. A case that delivers all three is ideal, but like any accessory, you have to compromise somewhere and focus on the features most important to you. With that in mind, the following represent a few favorites among both iPad veterans and newbies.
Built for Productivity
The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover ($99.99) for iPad Air not only protects your iPad, but also offers near laptop-like effectiveness for typing a message or document longer than a few sentences. Some may opt for theZAGG Folio Keyboard because of its backlit keyboard, but at this point, the higher build quality of Logitech accessories is worth the tradeoff.
Sadly, not many similar options exist for the Retina iPad mini, largely due to the fact that the dimensions of the device were altered slightly from the original iPad mini. Furthermore, if you’ve ever used a keyboard cover on the original iPad mini, you know that the device isn’t a great option for those looking to touch-type on a keyboard integrated into a tablet. It's just too small.
If you must use a keyboard with an iPad mini, on either version, we’d recommend ponying up for Apple’s more-than-capable Bluetooth keyboard ($69.00).
Built for Toughness
Let’s face it: iPads can be delicate devices for daily use. Despite Apple’s videos, which argue the contrary, cracking the screen of an iPad is rather simple if you don’t handle it with care. Accessory makers are still scrambling to release products for Apple’s updated iPads, but a few solid early entries include the Griffin Survivor ($79.99) for iPad Air and the OtterBox Defender Series case ($69.95) for the Retina iPad mini.
Built for Style
Tablet cases designed more for looks than pure functionality immediately draw skeptical looks from those who have suffered through pretty yet ultimately inadequate mobile device cases. When looking to dress up your Apple tablet, we suggest Pad & Quill’s elegant handmade Contega cases for the iPad Air ($99.99) and theRetina iPad mini ($89.99).
It’s like having all the simplicity and style of a Moleskin notebook wrapped around one of the most powerful tablets in the world. Sure, you can find more ostentatious iPad cases to suit your tastes, but why ruin the wonderfully minimalist aesthetics of such a well-crafted device by wrapping it in neon zebra print plastic? You're better than that.
For the Crazy Ones
Certain outliers are looking to shake things up even while adopting a popular trend or technology. If that's you, see below for a bit of a cheat sheet to navigate some iPad add-ons to cater to your specific needs — or just set you apart from the average iPad crowd.
Last year, the popular Showtime series Weeds ended with a finale that included a futre in which we all type text messages via virtual keyboards. Well, that “future” has already arrived, thanks to Celluon’s Epic full-size virtual Bluetooth keyboard ($149.99) that lets you use any flat surface to type on your iPad.Virtual Keyboard
Lately, nearly every new technology involves viewing, mapping or printing in 3D. Following that trend in an incredibly original way, the Structure Sensor ($349) turns your iPad into a mobile 3D mapping tool, allowing you to create digitally rendered versions of nearly any room (and the objects inside it) instantly.
You probably never dreamed that your iPad could turn into a robot, but Double Robotics has already done so. The self-balancing device ($2,499) cradles the iPad and allows you to remotely move around a home or office space while communicating via video. We recently tested the invite in the Mashable office; it not only works as advertised, but also feels like a slice of science-fiction dropped right into reality.
We’ve only touched upon a few of the vast iPad software and hardware options currently available. But if you just opened up your new iPad and are looking to cut through a lot of the noise, these suggestions should be more than enough to put you on the road to iPad satisfaction.
Do you know of a cool or useful iPad app or accessory we didn’t cover here? Let us know in the comments.
Images: Homepage by Mashable, Twitter on iPad by Matt Cardy/Getty Images, Comic on iPad John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images