iPad Apps

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IPad AppsBecause its large touch-screen is interactive and inviting, Apple’s iPad offers media companies, game makers and other content providers a way to display material that consumers supposedly will be more likely to pay for. However, I’m skeptical that many people, after shelling out at least $499 for an iPad, will be willing to shell out for more than a few $5 to $10 apps. There’s just too much content that the iPad can access for free on the Web and plenty of great apps in Apple’s own App Store that are cheap or free. 

It’s possible people might be more inclined to pay for an app or a download from Apple’s iTunes store to access compelling videos. You’re mainly out of luck if you want to use the iPad’s Safari Web browser to watch free online videos because many Web sites, such as Hulu, do that with Flash technology, which the iPad and iPhone don’t support. But after shelling out at least $499 for an iPad, how much more will you really want to spend to fill the tablet with apps? I’m guessing that people fatigued by constant entreaties to pay for content on multiple devices will be more inclined to stick with what’s cheap and free.

The iPad itself is an amazing device. It’s comfortable in my hands, easy to use and beautifully designed. Right out of the box, it reminded me of other Apple “firsts” that gave me a new way of interacting with electronics — the first Apple computer my family had in the early 1990s, the first iPod I bought in 2004. When I turned it on for the first time, it practically looked naked with just a handful of included applications for doing things such as playing videos, listening to music and surfing the Web. I wanted to fill it up with apps — and fast.

Already, it’s clear that many application makers are going to ask for more money for their iPad apps than for the ones they’ve been selling for the iPhone. (IPhone apps will work on the iPad but might not be optimized for the larger screen.) Of the 10 most-downloaded paid iPad apps, five of them are $10 apiece. Seven of them cost more than $4. In comparison, only one of the top 10 paid apps for the iPhone costs more than $4. (It is MLB.com At Bat 2010, which at $15 is the same price on the iPhone and the iPad.)

To be sure, some expensive apps are cool. There’s an iPad version of Brushes ($10), a popular painting program for the iPhone. The iPad’s large, bright screen makes a great canvas, and I was impressed by the command I had using just a finger or two as my paintbrushes. The $10 Scrabble app is fun and includes a “Party Play” feature that lets you take wordplay to the height of geekiness (and Apple mania) by using up to four iPhones as tile racks if they have a free Scrabble app to enable that. Bento ($5, the same price as on the iPhone) is an organizer program that helps you manage everything from contacts to recipes to work projects.

Even so, the most enjoyment I’ve been getting out of the iPad has come from things that are cheap or free. For $3, Smule’s Magic Piano app kept me entranced for an embarrassing amount of time. It features a spiral-shaped piano keyboard that was fun to play (or, in my case, attempt to play). You can play duets with distant iPad users, or listen to what people are playing around the world.

One of the best free apps, from Netflix, lets you stream movies and TV shows to the iPad. You need to have a Netflix account to use the application and it’s not that easy to navigate, but once you find what you want to watch, it streams well, as long as you have a good Wi-Fi connection.

I also liked Voice Memos for iPad, a $0.99 voice recorder app. It was extremely simple to use and nicely fills a little void because the iPad doesn’t come with its own voice memo utility as the iPhone has. And importantly, there are still lots of times when old-fashioned Web surfing beckons. The tablet’s super-crisp screen, 9.7 inches diagonally, makes the Internet look better, and it was a pleasure to read free blogs and news Web sites.

Many media companies that gave away content on the Web and on phones such as the iPhone, including The Associated Press, have built iPad apps that they hope can be a new way to make money. For now, though, many of these news apps are free. Ones from USA Today and the New York Times display the news more simply and more like a traditional newspaper than those newspapers’ Web sites do.

Sometimes, the Web offers a richer experience, though: You can watch videos posted on the front page of the Times’ Web site, for example, but I didn’t see any videos in the iPad app. The browser also is the venue you’d use for checking and updating Facebook on an iPad; there isn’t yet a Facebook app for it and the one built for the iPhone was cumbersome to use on the larger device.

Whether you’re after entertainment, information or productivity, there are plenty of good ways to use the iPad that don’t require spending lots of money — and you probably won’t feel like you’re missing out.  

Make Me an App

Running for office? You can make an app for that.

Maintaining a Facebook page and Twitter feed has become standard practice for political candidates seeking to get their message out. And some are even creating iPhone applications so supporters can follow their campaigns and make contributions on the go. The method has grown in popularity, especially since President Barack Obama’s widely chronicled and successful embrace of social media during the 2008 campaign. He even had a sophisticated iPhone app that let people get in touch with local organizers and find local events.

Doug MacGinnitie, a Republican running to be Georgia’s secretary of state, has an iPhone app that provides information about his campaign and helps supporters donate money. “I don’t think it’s going to change the course of history, but I’ve gotten comments from people who think it’s cool,” MacGinnitie said. “It reinforces the notion that I come from the business world, which is generally quicker to embrace technology.”

Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who’s running to be the Democratic nominee for governor, has an app that lets people follow her calendar, read news releases, familiarize themselves with her background and make campaign contributions. “It shows that our campaign is a modern campaign,” said Kelliher spokesman Matt Swenson. “We’re connecting with people where they are right now through the phones in the palms of their hands.”

Apple says it doesn’t keep track of how many campaign apps — or any other kind of app — are among the roughly 225,000 in its app store. If a candidate doesn’t have a friend or staffer who can do it, a basic iPhone app might cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to develop, said Gregg Weiss, the founder of iPhoneAppQuotes.com, which matches people wanting to create an app with U.S.-based developers.

Apple has had spats over rejected apps, including at least one candidate whose app was turned down. Some online chatter has focused on whether the power to reject gives Apple too much influence over politics, though Peter Scheer, executive director of the California-based First Amendment Coalition, dismissed that notion. “There certainly would be a problem if there were no competitor to Apple offering an alternative platform to reach a similar audience,” Scheer said.

But there are competitors — for instance, BlackBerry and phones that use Google’s Android software. Google spokesman Anthony House said in an e-mail that the company doesn’t review Android apps but will take them down if they use illegal content, are obscene or violate other policies. Jamie Ernst, of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, said in an e-mail that apps must be submitted for approval before they appear in BlackBerry’s App World but that there are no specific guidelines for political apps.

Some also have worried that Apple’s rejections limit free speech. But Scheer said Apple is able to control what’s in the apps because it’s a private entity and not the government, and the company could reasonably argue it’s like a publisher. “Their whole smorgasbord of apps is the equivalent of a magazine’s selection of the articles it wants to print and, therefore, it’s entitled to be as biased as it wants to be frankly,” he said.

At Apple’s annual conference for software developers on June 7, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said about 15,000 apps are submitted for approval each week in up to 30 languages, and 95 percent of them are approved within seven days. He said apps are rejected for three main reasons: because it doesn’t do what the developer says it does; because it might not work with upgrades to the iPhone’s operating system; and because it crashes.    
— Kate Brumback