This year was a big one for the iPad. In March, it got a Retina Display. In November, it started a family as the iPad mini joined a faster 4th-generation iPad. Along the way, the App Store's tally of iPad apps grew to over 275,000. Which of those new apps stood out? Read on, as we break down the best iPad apps of 2012.
Spotify released its long-anticipated iPad app in 2012. It didn't disappoint. It delivers all the music discovery and sharing that you'd expect, with an attractive sliding-window theme.
App Store: Spotify (free)
Though Google's Gmail app has been around since last year, it recently received a much-needed overhaul. While the old version was a wrapper for the Gmail web app, the new version is 100 percent native. Multiple accounts, easy searching, and push notifications make this the iPad's best third-party email app.
App Store: Gmail (free)
Tweetbot hit the iPad early this year and quickly became the App Store's killer Twitter app. It strikes a near-perfect balance of features and simplicity, with a subtle robotic design theme.
App Store: Tweetbot (US$2.99)
One of the iPad's first Twitter apps came back from the dead with this major update. Twitterrific 5 has the essential Twitter options, but is defined by its gorgeous and customizable aesthetic.
App Store: Twitterrific ($2.99)
Apple dropped the stock YouTube app from iOS 6, so iPad owners need to visit the App Store to download this version. Google's standalone app sports a nice design, while delivering the familiar YouTube experience.
App Store: YouTube (free)
The iPad is perfectly suited to magazines, but many readers have balked at publishers' digital pricing. Enter Next Issue: the Netflix of magazines. For either $10 or $15 per month, you get unlimited access to a large collection of big-name magazines.
App Store: Next Issue (free)
Before this year, the iPad had no serious image editing apps. Adobe changed that with the release of Photoshop Touch.
It's a far cry from professional CS6, but its feature set is surprisingly similar to consumer-level Photoshop Elements. Layers, filters, and advanced lighting effects allow for a fully-fledged Photoshop experience on your iPad.
App Store: Photoshop Touch ($9.99)
No matter how immersed you are in the post-PC world, there may be times when you need Office or Flash. OnLive Desktop delivers both, with a cloud-based version of Windows.
The free app gives you access to Windows and Microsoft Office. For $5 per month, you get a Flash-enabled version of Internet Explorer. Just remember that you'll need a persistent internet connection.
App Store: OnLive Desktop (free)
Earlier this year, Google graced the iPad with its beloved Chrome browser. It doesn't offer any performance boosts (it uses the same engine as Safari), but its interface, features, and syncing make it a worthy alternative to Apple's default browser.
App Store: Chrome (free)
Paper by FiftyThree
Paper does one simple thing, and it does it well. Use your finger or a stylus to draw on a virtual piece of paper. The pen and brushstrokes are realistic, and you can mix a variety of new colors.
The only red flag is its freemium pricing. The initial download is free, but to make the app worthwhile, you'll need to spend $7 or so in in-app purchases.
App Store: Paper by FiftyThree (free)
Zeebox is a couch potato's best friend. Sign in, enter your cable or satellite provider, and use your iPad as a second-screen companion. It's a socially-integrated TV guide, but there's also bonus content like actor info and new show suggestions.
App Store: Zeebox (free)
Pocket (formerly Read It Later) and Readability are free Instapaper rivals. Save articles from Safari, Flipboard, or a variety of other apps. When you're ready to read, they'll be waiting for you in a clean, clutter-free format.
Both apps have similar feature sets with minor differences, so you may want to try both to find your favorite.
Walking Dead: The Game
Never before has a Game of the Year been released on iPad alongside its console and PC editions. After years of improving its adventure game formula, Telltale Games hit a grand slam with Walking Dead: The Game.
Rather than making yet another formulaic zombie shoot-em-up, the comic adaption focuses on humanity and moral choice. Those decisions affect the game's outcomes, including all five episodes (available as in-app purchases).
App Store: Walking Dead: The Game ($4.99)
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
To celebrate its tenth anniversary (and get you excited about GTA V), Rockstar ported the console classic GTA: Vice City to iOS. All the 1980s South Beach fun is here, with enhanced HD graphics and solid virtual controls.
App Store: GTA: Vice City ($4.99)
Rayman Jungle Run
Ubisoft has a good thing going with Rayman. After Rayman: Origins rekindled the console franchise's relevance, the company tested the iOS waters with Jungle Run. It's a terrific running game, with simple controls, a catchy soundtrack, and delightful cartoon visuals.
App Store: Rayman Jungle Run ($2.99)
The World Ends With You: Solo Remix
Square Enix's port of this DS classic is one of the best games on iOS. Its depth of gameplay alone is light years ahead of most iPad games. Add its sharp graphics and definitive JRPG style, and The World Ends With You is worth its high price of admission.
App Store: The World Ends With You ($19.99)
Bastion is one of those special games that must be played to be appreciated. Its gameplay isn't exactly diverse, but the dazzling hand-drawn visuals, deep RPG leveling, and reactive narrator combine to keep things fresh and immersive.
App Store: Bastion ($4.99)
Chaos Rings II
Chaos Rings II is another great (and expensive) Square Enix RPG. The latest installment in the mobile-only franchise has more varied gameplay and a superior story to its predecessors.
App Store: Chaos Rings II ($19.99)
Max Payne Mobile
You can now enjoy Bullet Time on your iPad with Rockstar's port of the original Max Payne. The 11-year-old game is hardly a relic, as its story, gameplay, and atmosphere are still engrossing. The iPad version's HD touchup doesn't hurt things either.
App Store: Max Payne Mobile ($2.99)
Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour, N.O.V.A. 3
These two titles from Gameloft are the best first-person shooters in the App Store. Their graphics and console-style gameplay are top-notch. The only downside is Gameloft's consistently unbearable dialogue and voice acting.
No "best of" list is definitive, and any of these great apps could have easily made our list:
If you're loading up your iPad mini, you can check out our list of the best iPad mini apps.