O'Reilly logo

Best iPad Apps by Peter Meyers

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required

Weird and Wacky

Best Roller Coaster Design-and-Ride App

Best Roller Coaster Design-and-Ride App


$0.99
Version: 1.5 | Ziconic

Hands and feet inside the car at all times. And, for your stomach’s sake, don’t launch AirCoaster after a full meal. This roller coaster design-and-ride game is true enough to life to send any recently digested food in the wrong direction. Call it Reality Gaming. Most folks will opt to start by riding the app’s demo track or sampling the sometimes rickety, occasionally insane creations of your fellow app owners. (Mr. AC Titan’s “Death Trap” looks more like a nail bed on wheels than an amusement ride.) But once you tap around a bit, you might find the craft of track building its own draw. There’s an odd charm in being able to build big things from what is, after all, still a pretty small device.

AirCoaster

TICKET, PLEASE: To sample the fun that awaits, start by taking a spin on the demo track (Tracks→Demo Track). For maximum real-life effect, pick in-the-car view; the icon on the bottom of the screen should show a track icon rather than the bird’s-eye view’s globe—that’s what you see when you want to watch the ride from a distance.

HOP IN: The app also includes a full complement of share-what-you’ve-built and sample-others’-stuff tools: check out the Community button to get started and download some seriously stomach-churning and visually astonishing creations by your fellow ’Coasters.

DESIGN TIME: When ready, try your hand at track design: tapping the Editor button presents you with a box of controls only an engineer could love. Fear not. The basic idea: tap the track segment you want to edit, and then pick the control whose shape-shifting power you want to apply. Start, for example, with the spiral button which, yep, twists the track through as many loop-to-loops as you specify by using the slider.

AirCoaster

ZOOMED IN: In general, it helps to zoom in (spread your fingers) and then tap and hold any of the big, blocky red, blue, or green arrows. Each darkens as it becomes movable. Once you’ve nudged any of the arrows, give the app a second to redraw the track. Move the control box out of the way by tap-and-holding the vertical lines atop the box; then move the whole shebang.

AirCoaster

Best App for Dodging Slicing Swords

Best App for Dodging Slicing Swords


Free lite version | $2.99
Version: 1.0 | Branium Studios

You gotta give these guys credit for turning the Dungeon Dial up to 11 on this baby, a leader in the still uncrowded category of “tap the jewels before the swinging blades slice yer fingers” games. Consider what makes this Grade A Gothic: a Monks Gone Bad soundtrack featuring an apocalyptic choir chanting some kind of ode to darkness and misery; spurts of blood on your screen authentic looking enough that you might find yourself reaching for screen cleaner—if not a box of band-aids; and vaguely taunting, entirely cryptic slogans goading you into battle before each round: “As your life whithers/The crimson jewel heals.” Shoot, even the typeface in this app looks medieval.

Hand of Greed

DOUBLE TAP: It’s called multi-touch because you can jab the screen with more than one finger at a time. So peck those jewels with multiple digits. There’s a miniature golf quality to the gameplay. Wait a beat to figure out the pulse of the swinging knives…but not too long. You have to complete each level before the fuse at the bottom burns out.

VILE VIAL: Keep an eye on the game’s top-of-screen nick-meter: a gold-encrusted blood chamber whose contents represent, basically, the distance between you and death. Each time a blade slices your finger this receptacle empties a bit more, signaling your nearing exit to that great guillotine in the sky.

Best App for Golf on a Weird 2D Planet

Best App for Golf on a Weird 2D Planet


$2.99
Version: 2.4 | Jordan Schidlowsky

That golf is a game of reckoning trajectories and summoning your best inner geometer is nowhere more true than in this addictive, persistently ridiculous collection of golf courses. Want to test your ability to drive, say, upwards at an 85 degree angle so your ball careens off a cliff—magically hanging in the sky—and ricochets from there onto an adjacent, suspended-in-midair island, past the cactus tree and down the impossible-to-find-in-nature slope into the hole? Why not? Just remember not to toss your club in frustration—the iPad doesn’t like hard landings.

RULES OF THE RANGE: Use the left and right arrows to control your shot’s upward angle; then tap Go! twice: once to trigger the backswing, and again when you’re ready to connect. Between theory and practice, however, sits more than a few traps. Most significant are the diabolical architectures practiced by this game’s virtual course designers.

TRAPS AND HAZARDS: Perhaps trickiest of all is gauging the point at which to trigger the shot. Too soon and you’ll dribble forward a weak mulligan; a Tiger slam, on the other hand, as often as not overshoots your target. As you work to calibrate the correct pressure, you’ll no doubt rack up more than a few high-multiple bogies.

Stick Golf HD

Best Multi-Colored Orb Squashing Game

Best Multi-Colored Orb Squashing Game


$4.99
Version: 1.6.3 | Hemisphere Games

You know how it goes: you’re a tiny blue mote, trapped inside a digital petri dish and if you don’t bulk up by hurling yourself into other blue motes, the red orbs will swallow you and the dreaded “Lifeform terminated” message appears. No one wants that to happen, and in this utterly original, finger-, mind-, eye-, and ear- captivating game, you’ll quickly get the Newtonian-driven gist of how to control your micro blue sphere of life. Tap just to the other side of where you want to go and in true “every action has an equal and opposite reaction” fashion your blue guy skittles away from where you tapped (diminishing your mass with each energy burst). Welcome to life on Planet Osmos.

FINGER TIPS: Single finger swipes change the speed of time: to the left slows things down, to the right ups the tempo (the music’s, too). For finer grained control, slow your swipe into a tap-and-slowly-drag motion in one direction or another. Zoom in and out with the usual pinch and spread; the latter especially can be useful early on in a level to get the lay of the land. Tap more quickly to increase your mote’s speed, but the best advice is this: don’t be a finger spaz. Slow, strategically placed taps are mostly what you need to keep yourself safe.

JOURNEYS, REWARDS: While the main objective in the dozens of levels in this game are to bulk up your blueness so that you, rather than your green or red foes do the squashing, this app is as much an exercise in mood soothing as it is a traditional survive-till-you die quest. Every so often, after completing a level, you may find yourself waiting, watching your mote and its sparkling, jellyfish innards careen ever so softly around the screen. You’re no longer a mote killing machine; it’s just you and your iPad. Ohmmmmmm.

Osmos for iPad

Best Crumpled Paper–Throwing Game

Best Crumpled Paper–Throwing Game


$2.99
Version: 1.60 | Backflip Studios

Tossing crumpled paper into the trash might never qualify as an Olympic sport, but it’s gotta be up there in terms of worldwide participants. Of course, that means including variants beyond the most popular, “I’m stuck in a cubicle and need to make sport of something in my life.” PaperToss HD has got ’em all. Waiting in an airport, hangin’ at a bar, and, of course: on the, er, can. The variables that separate chumps from champs are distance and wind speed (the latter controlled by a fan whose direction and velocity are represented by onscreen labels that change with each throw). Whichever camp you fall in, you’re gonna need some serious screen cleaner after a few rounds.

Paper Toss HD

TOSS AND TURN: For fan speeds under 1.00 or so, aim head on. More than 4.00 and it’s time to summon your inner geometer. Like golf putters who aim up-slope, flick your trash drastically off course (or so it would seem). Then watch as the breeze catches your shot and curves it right into the receptacle.

RUBBISH ROOMS: Most venues have toughness settings hard-wired. Each come with a built-in collection of audio effects (random catcalls, ambient life noises); stick with it for awhile and you’ll hear some entertaining gems. The scoreboard tracks how many consecutive shots you make; submit your high score online to see how you match up against fellow tossers.

Best App for Thinking Before Slicing

Best App for Thinking Before Slicing


Free lite version | $1.99
Version: 1.0 | ZeptoLab

The App Store’s brimming with so-called “physics games,” which invite you to replicate real-world actions: pull a slingshot back and release it; bolt gears together to move stuff; squeeze air from a balloon towards a rope-dangled lollipop, thereby causing the candy to swing in a certain direction so that when you cut said rope its sugary charm drops into the mouth of a waiting frog. Sounds ridiculous, sure, but this wildly popular game has taken off for reasons that are as clear as they are charming: you really end up exercising your noggin trying to plan out exactly how and when to cut the rope in order to feed that dang frog and move on to the next level.

Cut the Rope HD

THE POINT? POINTS: Prior to feeding the frog, you need to rack up points. You do so by somehow pushing the dangling candy into the yellow stars—using balloon-pushed air, altitude-boosting bubbles, or plenty of other similarly silly methods. Spiked barriers often protect the frog; you need to navigate your shiny red circle around them.

TRAVELER’S AID: For help, enlist the travel services of those glistening bubbles: inject the candy inside one of those saviors and up and away you float till you puncture the thing at the point where you want it to descend. Speaking of: descents are what’ll kill ya. If you send your circle southward and it misses the target mouth, it’s level over.

Best Game for Killing Pigs With Birds

Best Game for Killing Pigs With Birds


$4.99
Version: 1.4.2 | Rovio Mobile

It’s a rivalry born of an ancient wrong (though conveniently still viewable on YouTube at http://youtu.be/1Bk_nqUQ0fc): a band of birds gone mad with anger at a hungry pack of egg-thieving pigs. Their revenge? Slingshotting their bad birdselves at the porkers wherever they seek shelter. You are their General, your finger the catapulting trigger that aims them. It’s earned some of the highest ratings—over a half a million—in the App Store and three minutes in its company reveals why: this game is as hysterical as it is addictive. Something about the ridiculous sound effects and the just-right difficulty of figuring out how to catapult your birds at the right pig-slaughtering angle. Good times.

BIRD BOMBERS: Two ways to kill the porcine posse: bonk ’em with a slingshot-flung bird or deliver your death blow via some object whose collapse you cause by your airborne fowl. As you progress through each level, new birds become available, each with its own talents. For example, stroke the screen as your small blue chicks are mid flight and three new birds will emerge from the one that you launched. Or tap the screen to spring your yellow fliers into turbo mode.

PULLED PORK: Pinch your fingers together for a wider-angle view. You might get some advantage in rapid-fire launching, since the wobbling structures are more susceptible to toppling compared to waiting for them to stop swaying. Then again, you might want to take the time to recalibrate and aim carefully. These are the kinds of difficult decisions a chicken general must make in the war on pork.

Angry Birds HD

Best Game for Ninja Wannabes

Best Game for Ninja Wannabes


$4.99
Version: 1.1 | Halfbrick Studios

The best apps get you to swipe, pinch, and spread fingers in ways that simply can’t be done using a mouse or video game controller. At times, the action even beats real life, like when you’re trying to samurai-sword slice an onslaught of fruit without triggering bombs falling in their midst. Perhaps the only downside to Fruit Ninja HD is its inexplicable—and, to some, inescapable—addictiveness. What on earth is going on here that compels otherwise gainfully employed, tax-paying adults to stay at this swipefest just to best their previous high score?

FRUIT LOOPS: The object is deceptively simple: finger swipe your sword through each banana, strawberry, and so on that some unseen juggler tosses in front of you. Three misses or an errant clank on one of the randomly appearing bombs and your ninjaness is no more. Don’t forget that you’ve got 10 fruit-fighting weapons: use all your fingers…but don’t give into finger flailing; skilled ninjas wield their weapons with grace and precision.

MULTIPLAYER MADNESS: Play on your own or, for fullscreen finger-swiping fun, face off against a fellow ninja. Multiplayer mode puts each of you in charge of one half of the screen, where you both slice off against a falling fruit salad. Wanna pimp out your sword collection? Visit the Dojo to select new styles, more of which become available the more you play.

Fruit Ninja HD

HONORABLE MENTION

Fruit Ninja HD


$2.99
Version: 1.5.3 | Venan Entertainment

How can you resist an app that promises to let you “fly on giant moustachios”? And who calls ’em “moustachios”? Who cares. This tree climbing, Ninja-themed romp will probably be most folks’ first chance to indulge in arboreal antics since about second grade. Two tree trunks border either side of this portrait-mode orientation-only vertical race. Scamper upwards in either of two play modes: Classic (climb till you die) or Timed (hit checkpoints before the clock runs out). The goal is to accumulate points while avoiding game-ending falls.

Ninjatown: Trees of Doom

TREE HUGGERS: Trace your finger up a trunk to climb or tap the facing log to switch sides. Branch-flinging is another mode of transport. In between all that, you’ll face an assortment of water-slicked stretches, hovering between-tree baddies, and barkless patches that’ll send you falling to your mortal finish. As you get into the groove, the finger action resembles a stutter tap dance as you quickly jump, drag, and jump again.

TREETOP TIPTOE: You gotta tap nimbly from side to side to make your way up the bare barkless patches. And, oh, about those ’stachios? It’s the game’s version of an express elevator: get aboard and you’ll head north quickly.

Best App for Simon Says–Style Repetition

Best App for Simon Says–Style Repetition


$3.99
Version: 1.2.0 | para9

Can you tap your foot, chew gum, and mimic the trippy dippy arm snaking of that guy groove-walking in front of you? Would you want to? If you answered yes and have a modicum of A/V-friendly short-term memory, this “rhythm & shapes game” is for you. In each of a dozen or so increasingly difficult challenges, the geometrical shapes on your screen light up in a pattern that matches the accompanying techno-flavored beats. Your job is to replicate these movements—tap a lit-for-a-beat circle here, drag-to-connect two bars there—when the tune plays again. This game taxes your brain, which is exactly the point. Mesmerize your mind even as you build its memory muscle.

MIRROR MOTION: The thin timeline bar at the top of the screen is your guide from pattern rehearsal through live match. A white progress bar advances from left to right: in the red zone, you watch the objects below and try to remember the action. Each of the blue zones represents consecutive chances to get it right. Your score arrives as a percentage of all taps and drags done correctly.

TRAINING TAPS: It helps (and won’t hurt) during the red watch-and-learn phase to finger the screen in an effort to etch the movements in your head. If you’re having a hard time matching the rhythm, try the Moog Rock sequence. It’s faster paced than many of the other levels, but its progression is more orderly—left to right, top to bottom—compared to the random Twister sequences found elsewhere in the game.

muBlip

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, interactive tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required