New Apple iPad software put to the test


Along with the launch of the new Apple iPad, complete with its superb Retina Display and faster graphics processor to make striking visual effects possible, came a slew of apps upgraded to suit the high-resolution screen.

Chief among these was iPhoto, a powerful and gorgeous image manipulation app which is easy to use but sophisticated in its features. Like most apps, it’s highly affordable – it costs £2.99. Buy it once and it’ll work on your iPhone as well. It is just as speedy and effective on the iPad 2, though it looks sumptuous on the latest iPad’s much higher-resolution Retina Display.

And since the new iPad has a vastly improved camera – 5 megapixels as opposed to the iPad 2’s video-optimised sensor, which struggled with stills – you can even take a photograph and edit it all on the iPad.

There are helpful touches throughout the app, such as the use of image-matching technology to help you find similar photographs as you browse, making it easier to choose the best one and delete others.

Editing isn’t just limited to changing colours, cropping images or straightening horizons with a two-finger twist of the screen. You can also adjust the white balance, add effects, change skin tones, contrast, sharpness and more.

It’s all done with your fingers – painting adjustments onto the photos with subtle strokes. If your finger is too big to brush accurately, just zoom in on the photo – it’s a clever piece of reverse psychology.

But there’s a lot to this app, so if it sounds complex, that’s because it is. And this is one of few Apple programs that comes with a help file built in. Although much is straightforward, it’s worth familiarising yourself with this first as it’s easy to go wrong when you’re unsure what you’re doing. It’s always possible to undo effects or return to the original image, but when something is new, it’s easy to panic. Thankfully there’s a one-tap shortcut that places helpful captions on every button.

Once you’ve sorted pictures as you want them, you can display them in slideshows. This is not a new feature but there are three extra themes this time around, complete with specially composed music. And thanks to AirPlay, you can play those slideshows on a big-screen TV, assuming you have an Apple TV video streaming box.

Add in AirPrint to allow wireless printing from iPad to a compatible printer, easy sharing features to post images to Facebook, Twitter and more, and you can see this is a big program. Still, don’t be put off by the many sophistications, it’s certainly an essential purchase.

If stills aren’t your thing, the latest edition of iMovie will satisfy your film-making needs. It also costs £2.99 and works on iPad 2, iPhone 4, fourth-generation iPod touch and the new iPad.

You can shoot movies in 1080p HD on the new iPad (an upgrade from the iPad 2’s 720p capability) though no tablet yet released is ergonomically suitable for lengthy handling for photos or video shooting. Still, you can use iMovie to edit stuff you’ve shot on, you know, a camcorder.

The Mac edition of iMovie, part of the iLife suite, is a highly usable, advanced yet fun program. This aims to do nearly as much, with features like freeze frames which you can create, edit, move, lengthen and title with a few swipes. There are elements to edit audio using coloured waveform images. And you can create trailers – a headline feature on the Mac version. These are simple-to-construct short movies with templated themes, captions and music. They’re really just cinematic doodles but quite satisfying to create.

There are settings to make it easy to upload your home movies to YouTube or Facebook when you’ve finished editing them. Not to mention the same AirPlay feature to play the content on a bigger screen if you have Apple TV. If not, the appropriate digital AV adapter connects to an HDMI cable.

GarageBand (£2.99 for iPhone, iPod touch or iPad) is a gentler upgrade of the already powerful music app that lets you create recordings. It now has more touch-sensitive instruments so you can play Smart Strings, which mimics a string orchestra but with rather less manpower – one finger sounds like a room full of musos.

Whether it’s really a good way to compose music is another matter, but it’s undeniably enormous fun to noodle around with Smart Strings, picking out which instruments to feature and stroking the screen gently to make the music sound. Turning on Autoplay makes it sound tremendous and the iPad can even tell if you’re touching the screen gently or firmly and produce a sound that matches. It’s enjoyable and genuinely satisfying to use.

Strings are the latest addition to the Smart component of GarageBand, sitting alongside Smart Keyboard, Guitar, Bass and Drums. There are also new synthesiser sounds added, too.

Once you've created a recording you can finely adjust it rather than starting to play again from the start, including a Note Editor function so you can tweak by adding, deleting or moving notes. And there’s Jam Session, a new feature where a room full of iPads and iPhones can play together, connected wirelessly so they can be automatically synchronised. This means it’ll sound the best it can, although some musical talent certainly helps.

For under £9, you can put the iPad versions of the iLife suite (iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand) on your iPad. True, there were two other elements, iDVD and website creation program iWeb, but these are no longer part of the computer software collection. In terms of value, it’s pretty cool, and as far as features and usability go, it’s another way the iPad remains way ahead of Android tablets.