Like owners of iPhones and Androids, users of iPads faced a surge of new apps last year, to the point where it was easy to miss great ones. Here's my list of 10 favorites from 2011, along with a few runners-up. Note: as with 2010's Top 10, seasonal sensations like MLB.com's At Bat aren't included, nor are games, which I'll cover separately online.
ZITE (free) This is the closest thing to the perfect magazine. The first time you use the app, it prompts you to choose categories of interest. You can also let it check your Twitter or Google Reader accounts for your favorite topics. Based on that information, Zite then builds a magazine with articles from around the Web. The cover page is a potpourri, while the sections offer a deep look at each category. Graphics are sharp, layouts are inviting and the recommendations get smarter with time. It doesn't include Twitter or Facebook feeds, but that's what Flipboard is for.
SNAPSEED ($5) Apple anointed this photo app as its iPad app of the year, and there's little question that it's one of the best. Snapseed brings whimsy and efficiency to photo editing, with a highly intuitive interface and just enough editing and filtering options to give you control without being overwhelming. Snapseed also includes an automatic filtering option, which, in my testing, made good choices with the color and contrast elements it tweaked. Luminance, a competing photo-editing app, is good and less expensive ($1), but not nearly as intuitive as Snapseed.
THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE ($5) My favorite work of fiction in a book app last year, Morris Lessmore is a graphically stunning narrative that's part picture book, part movie -- moviebook, anyone? -- in which the pictures animate at your touch. You can turn up the volume and hide the text and let the app tell the story or mute the narrator and read it the old-fashioned way. Either way, Morris Lessmore is first rate. For another glimpse at the future of graphical fiction, Unwanted Guest ($7), from the developer of Moving Tales, is also beautifully written, narrated and animated. Poetry fans should splurge on T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land ($14), an immersive course on Eliot's landmark poem, complete with a riveting performance of the work by the actress Fiona Shaw.
TOONTASTIC (free) A great storytelling app for adults and children, Toontastic takes much of the work out of an often-daunting task. The app breaks down a tale into five basic components and adds cartoon scenes, music and characters for the storyteller to select. You narrate a scene while dragging characters around the screen. Toontastic records the movement and narration, then assembles the scenes into the final product, which you can share with other users. Storytellers can also draw their own scenes with a rudimentary set of illustration tools, or buy packs of additional scenes and characters for $1. More ambitious animators should consider Animation Desk ($5).
JAMIE'S RECIPES (free) Last year was a good one for cooking-related iPad apps. Instructional offerings like The Professional Chef ($50) and Baking With Dorie ($8) brought excellent guidance to beginning bakers and cooks, but Jamie's Recipes provided the best balance of high-quality instruction and a broad range of recipes -- especially for the price. The recipes are broken down into slide shows that feature clear photography and reasonably detailed directions for each step. The chef Jamie Oliver also leads video tutorials on important skills, like knife work, that are of broadcast quality. The app includes 10 recipes, with packs of additional recipes available for about $2 each.
GARAGEBAND ($5) This app is good on the iPhone and even better on the iPad. GarageBand sets the standard for music creation on a tablet device, with features that will appeal to professionals and amateurs. The instruments can be customized in a wide variety of ways, and they're finger-friendly on the iPad's screen. The recording features are intuitively designed, with options for looping and trimming tracks, for instance. Children and amateurs will have fun morphing their voices with different effects, while more ambitious musicians can import existing tracks or, if they have the proper hardware, plug instruments into the iPad and record from there.
LIVING EARTH HD WORLD CLOCK AND WEATHER ($1). In a sea of more complicated and ambitious apps, Living Earth is beautifully simple. It offers a live satellite view of the globe so you can glimpse cloud cover in your area, while a graphic tells you the current temperature along with the day's predicted high and low. You can add favorite locations, and for striking weather events you can take a snapshot of the globe and share it. It makes for a stellar desktop companion during the day, with its slowly spinning globe, and a comforting stalwart on the bedside table at night, with a reliable alarm tuned to your favorite music.
BACK IN TIME ($8) The coolest history textbook you'll find on the iPad, Back in Time tells the story of the universe with a 24-hour clock, where the Big Bang starts the day and humans appear in the final seconds. Spin the clock's hands and you can explore historical highlights, through videos about dark matter, text-based discussions of the Cradle of Humankind or photos of Lucy, the legendary fossil, among many others. The text is best suited to older children and adults, but it makes for great browsing for younger children too, and the subtly moving graphics provide a compelling backdrop. For a fuller, and stunning. exploration of space, download Solar System ($14).
DJAY ($20) Got a hidden scratch master inside of you? Djay doesn't come cheap, but like other apps on this list, it will serve beginners and experts. For people with experience in mixing tracks and adding sound effects, Djay has a broad range of options and features to build a distinctive sound, and you can record and export performances. Others may simply want the app to mix and play their iTunes music as a professional D.J. might, and for them the app's Automix mode works nicely.
AL GORE -- OUR CHOICE ($5) Even if you've read enough on climate change to chart your own course on the issue, Our Choice is a must read because it demonstrates the vast potential for interactive books. The text anchors the book, but the supporting graphics, photos and videos play a major role. Pages are filled with great photography and animated graphics that expand, collapse and disappear with the sweep of a finger. The videos are also shot and narrated with professional polish. If you suffer from climate fatigue and still want a cool interactive book experience, try The History of Jazz ($10). It's more reliant on Wikipedia and YouTube for content, but it's still powerfully educational and entertaining.