As incredible as it seems, it’s been over a year and a half since the original iPad was released, forever changing what the world thought of tablet computers. The old Tablet PCs were clunky, expensive machines that could run any Windows program, albeit slower and more awkwardly than a full computer. The iPad at first glance looks just like a scaled-up iPhone, but the wide range of apps and number of varied uses it’s found in homes, schools, and businesses has made tablets a permeant part of our computing ecosystem.
One area where the iPad and other tablets have lagged behind is with web apps. While Safari on the iPad is a modern, quite capable browser, many web apps are difficult to use with fingers, and can run very slow on slower processors. Over the past year, though, more and more web apps have been designed or updated to take advantage of the iPad’s features, including multitouch, gestures, and more. Let’s look at some of the best web apps today for the iPad, and if we miss your favorite, be sure to let us know in the comments below!
The iPad was quickly labeled a consumption device for reading, watching video, and playing casual games. Turns out, though, it can be a great productivity tool as well. There’s tons of native apps to help you get your business done, but best of all, many of the web apps you love have nice iPad versions as well. Now, many web apps work fine in Safari on iPad without any tweaking, but the best apps have designed beautiful tablet-centric interfaces that make it even nice to work from your iPad’s touchscreen.
If there’s one website you’d expect to work great on any browser, it’d be Google search. It’s simple, obvious, and mainly text. That hasn’t stopped Google from working to make Google any nicer on tablets, perhaps with the aim to make it work better on their own Android tablets. Either way, the newest Google search interface on tablets is very nice, with finger-friendly layouts and options to quickly jump to other parts of Google search. In some ways, it almost feels more intuitive than Google’s current desktop search layout.
Gmail is easily one of the most impressive web apps on the iPad, and it’s been around as long as the iPad has been publicly released. It’s got all the features you love from Gmail, such as tags, stars, threaded conversations, full account search, and more. Then, it’s got enough iPad Mail features to make you wonder if it’s really a web app. You can scroll through messages on the left sidebar while looking at a message in the reading pane, as you’d expect, but then you can select multiple messages and they’ll stack up much like they would in the Mail app. Except this time, it’s all in your browser.
Google Docs hasn’t fared quite as nicely on the iPad. At first, it wouldn’t work at all, but now, you can at least enter data into spreadsheets and edit documents in plain text. You can also create new basic documents from the iPad. Neither one are very impressive, but Google Docs is important enough to many of our workflows to make any iPad support important.
Time zones can be one of the more confusing things, especially if you work with a global company like Envato or travel cross-country or overseas on a regular basis. When you need to get your team together for a teleconference, or just make sure you won’t wake your mom up in the middle of the night when you call home, this app makes it easy to find the current time around the globe. It looks sharp, and is just as easy to use.
LucidChart is one of the more full-featured desktop web apps, and is easily the most viable Visio contender on the market. Most apps like this don’t work nearly as good in the iPad’s browser, but the LucidChart team has worked to integrate iPad specific features into their app. You can draw shapes with your finger that will automatically be converted to native charting shapes, then tap and drag elements to the position you want. You might find it easier to create your mockups and org charts on the iPad in LucidChart than in Visio on your PC!
37Signals is best known for their productivity apps like Basecamp and Campfire, tools that keep many teams like ours running on a daily basis. One of their lesser-known apps, Chalk, is a more fun app that lets you draw on a virtual chalkboard on your iPad. Pick from two colors of chalk and draw anything you’d like, or clean up your drawing with the eraser. Then, when you’re done, tap the export button on the corner and save the picture to your iPad. It’s a simple and cute way to draw, and you could even use it to sketch up an idea and email it to Basecamp to share with your team.
Zoho has one of the most complete suites of web apps online today, including everything from office apps to mail and calendar tools to CRM and financial tools. They’ve added an iPad launchboard for all of their apps, so you can easily jump into your work on the go in a finger-friendly environment. Many of the app have received an iPad makeover as well, and with free versions of most of their apps, it’s a viable competitor to Google Apps and more that you should definitely check out.
Minutes.io is a nice web app for taking minutes and notes in meetings, saving them locally in your browser, then sharing them with your team or the world. It works great from the iPad’s browser as well, with tweaks to make it finger friendly and quick to use. Next time you’re stuck in a meeting with an iPad, this might be a more effective way to pass the time than slinging birds at green pigs.
Penzu is one of the nicest online journal apps, and if you have a Pro account, it’s got a beautifully customized iPad web app as well. They’ve made a responsive HTML5 mobile web app that works great on smartphones and tablets, bringing the best Penzu features to your favorite devices. And, if the web app isn’t enough, they’ve also got nice native apps for iOS, Android, and more. It’s a great mix of native and web apps that lets you write the way you want.
We just recently reviewed Axe, a new iPad web app from the amazing team at ZURB. It’s a great way to markup websites on the go, so you can send feedback or save your thoughts for your own self on ways to improve and tweak sites. Plus, it’s a great way to show off nice iPad web app integration, with support for shake to undo any changes you’ve added. Seeing that in a web app makes you want to see even more hardware integration with iPad web apps going forward!
Need a way to collaborate with your team graphically? AWW, or Awesome Web Whiteboard, gives your team a shared drawing space, where you can crank out designs or brainstorm with your fingers, right from any browser. Best of all, it works great on the iPad, and it’s much easier to draw the stuff you need from a touch device than with a mouse!
Trello is one of the newest project management apps to hit the web, and we were very impressed with it in our recent review. You can use it to quickly brainstorm on projects, save your ideas, or let your team know what’s most important. All for free, and all from almost any device you can think of, including your smartphone or tablet. That’s the kind of apps we like!
When you feel inspired to draw or paint, and want to do it on your iPad, this is the web app you need. deviantART has long been the destination for digital artists to show off their creations, and their web app, Muro, now lets you be creative right from a web app. The app works great on the iPad as well, and since it’s obviously easier to draw with your fingers than your mouse, it feels much more natural on the iPad than it does on your desktop. It’s impressive you can do this much from a tablet browser!
Lanbito is one of the newest ways to make simple, elegant online forms, and its web app has been designed to work great from touch browsers. You can even include iOS specific elements like on/off switches and bullets that are easy to select on a touch screen. When you’re needing to create a new form on the go, just whip out your iPad, drag the parts in you need, add your info, and minutes later, you’re ready to go. It’s that easy, and it works just as you’d expect on the iPad.
It seems slightly wrong to include iCloud in this list, since the iCloud web apps themselves won’t load on Safari on the iPad (though you can get them to load in iCab Mobile or other browser apps by changing your user agent). But, iCloud may prove to be the most important web app to the iPad, even if only for its back-end mail, calendar, and data push services. iCloud aims to keep all of your devices in sync automatically, and could make it much easier to keep your data on both your iPad and your iPhone or full-sized computer back home. Sure, it’s mainly used through native apps on the iPad, but at it’s core, it’s a cloud service, and its desktop web apps are quite nice as well.
Even if the iPad is great for productive apps, it also offers one of the nicest on-screen reading experiences. Instapaper, Flipboard, Kindle for iPad, Reeder, Apple’s own iBooks, and more easily prove that. Each of them are also powered by cloud services to sync books or articles to your iPad; indeed, the iPad as we know it would scarcely be a viable product without cloud-connected apps. But these web apps go beyond that. They’re full web apps that still let you get a great reading experience on your iPad.
One of the first apps many of us would download on the iPad would be the Kindle app. Amazon has one of the largest eBook stores, often the best prices, and with apps on almost every device imaginable, you’ll always be able to read your books. Amazon has now brought the Kindle to the web with Amazon Cloud Reader. It works great on the iPad, even letting you save books for offline reading and swipe the screen to turn pages. Plus, it includes the Amazon Kindle store for tablets, which is a great way to browse and purchase books from your iPad.
While we’re talking about Amazon, we can’t forget Amazon Cloud Drive. This new service from Amazon lets you store your music in the cloud, and then play it back from any device, including your iPad’s browser. It’s not going to give you as nice of an experience as the iTunes store with offline music, but it’s worth remembering if you buy your music from Amazon and want to listen to it on the go.
The Twitter app is another of the most popular free apps on the App Store, but that hasn’t kept the Twitter team from making the Twitter web app work great in Safari on the iPad. It’s been recently updated with the latest features from the desktop Twitter web app, while bringing some of the style of the native Twitter iPad app to the web. Tap a tweet to see a pane slide out with more info, or quickly switch to your timeline or @ mentions with the top toolbar.
The Financial Times team decided they couldn’t take Apple’s restrictive App Store policies and 30% cut of subscription fees, so they invested their efforts into making a full-featured news web app. It’s easily one of the more impressive reading web apps online today. You can save articles to read later offline, check the headlines for free, and subscribe to a full subscription to stay on top of the financial world. Best of all, the interface is nice enough that you won’t even need to worry about saving article to an app like Instapaper. That’s how news sites should be designed!
Onswipe has done an impressive job converting some of the biggest names in online publishing’s sites into iPad web apps. It’s running automatically on millions of WordPress.com blogs, and now is powering Slate and other popular sites you likely visit already. It makes your site look more like Flipboard or some of the other popular news apps, while taking full advantage of your article’s images and content.
The team at Brave New Code has done an impressive job with their WPtouch Pro plugin, which makes your WordPress blog feel like a native iPad app. Once you install the plugin on your site, your blog will look much like Mail or Twitter for iPad, right in your reader’s browser. With animated comment fly-in boxes, options to save and share pages right from the site, and more, it’s a great way to make your readers feel at home on their iPad. Best of all, they can still go back to the standard web view if they want.
BracketSlash is a beautiful alternative to Google News and other online news readers that could hold its own against the dozens of native iPad news apps. Swipe the rows left or write to page through the headlines, scroll up or down to see more topics, and tap links to read the news articles. It’s a great way to catch up with what’s going on right from your iPad, for free.
Need to learn more about your iPad’s native software? Apple’s made a nice web app to help you out. It feels almost just like the iPad’s settings screen, with sliding animations as you look through the pages of info. Best of all, it works offline using your browser’s storage, so you can keep looking up info anytime, anywhere. We’re just wondering why they didn’t build more help options into the iPad itself!
There’s no lack of games on the App Store, with everything from Angry Birds to Real Racing to Infinity Blade, perhaps the most impressive tablet game yet. There’s far fewer web app games for the iPad, as most web app games are Flash based. There’s still several nice ones, though, and if you know of more, please let us know in the comments below!
Were you disappointed that your iPad didn’t come with Solitaire? Never fear. This elegant edition of Solitaire, built as a demo by the Sencha Touch team, lets you drag and drop cards just as you’d expect. It’s very nicely designed, and the cards fall with fluid animation into their stacks. Now if only we had Minesweep, then all Windows users would feel right at home in business meetings with the iPad.
OLO is a new, experimental touch-based HTML5 game that we reviewed not too long back. It’s similar to shuffleboard or paper football, and the goal is to get more OLO orbs than your opponent. It’s a totally new game, so check out our review for more info, or just dive in and give it a shot with a friend. Good chance to get to play a game while convincing someone else that you’re testing out new web technology!
If you’re a fan of daily crosswords, and can’t get enough from the App Store, this might be the web app for you. You can pick from a variety of crosswords, see hints and hear them read out loud, and enter letters from a nice on-screen keypad that doesn’t cover too much of the screen. It’s a surprisingly nicely designed app, considering that many desktop crossword web apps are cluttered with ads and junk that take away from your game’s experience.
MotionFrame isn’t a game, but it is a cute way screensaver-type app for your iPad that can be entertaining, if only for a little while. Once you’ve saved it to your home screen, you can launch it to see a full-screen flame-type animation with the time and date in the bottom left corner. Drag your finger on the screen, and the flames will follow your finger with a swoosh.
If the iPad has shaped up to be a productivity tool, it surely can’t be classified as a developer tool, right? You can’t compile code on it, there’s no console, and typing slashes and brackets on the iPad’s keyboard would get too annoying after a while. Some native apps and these web apps are starting to prove that wrong though. You could almost include LucidChart in this list as well, since it can be used for making high-quality mockups in your browser. When you need to do something more geeky with your iPad, this list might help you out.
While there are dozens of other web apps that work great on the iPad, including Basecamp and other business and productivity apps, there still are far fewer web apps designed specifically for the iPad. We’re excited at the advances we are seeing, however, and with apps like Gmail for iPad, LucidChart, Axe, and more that take full advantage of the iPad, we hope to see even more full-featured iPad web apps in the future.
Do you have a favorite web app that you love on the iPad that we didn’t include? If so, let us know in the comments. We’re always looking for more