The onboard apps
I've already mentioned that Safari is, in many ways, the centerpiece app on the iPad--if a device connected to an App Store with thousands of apps can be considered to have a "main app." But the iPad's other built-in apps aren't too shabby, either. They all take advantage of the iPad's screen size in clever and sometimes subtle ways, and will serve as templates for iPad app developers everywhere: these apps are Apple's examples of what iPad software should be.
Mail is a fusion of the iPhone Mail program and the version of Mail on the Mac. It's pretty and functional, though there's no unified Inbox and there's still a bit too much sliding around between mailboxes for my tastes, a way in which the app hews a bit too closely to its iPhone cousin. (A popover window that lets you choose from your available mailboxes on all accounts would be nice, for example.)
Calendar has a nice embossed background reminiscent of a physical day-planner, but beyond that it's very much like Apple's iCal application for Mac OS X. Only I think the iPad's Calendar app is better than iCal. It feels more responsive, looks better, and provides more flexible views. Contacts is a basic address book (also with a pretty frame reminiscent of a physical address book). Notes is an overgrown version of the Notes app for the iPhone, complete with its insistence on lined yellow paper and the annoying Marker Felt typeface. Thank goodness the App Store will soon be flooded with plenty of alternatives.
The iPad's Maps app will be familiar to anyone who's used Maps on the iPhone, but it offers a number of nice improvements. The sheer size of the iPad screen makes Maps that much more attractive. There's a new Terrain view that puts your surroundings in graphic relief. And a new blue overlay bar lets you navigate driving directions without getting in your way.
Some people will probably not use the Photos app on the iPad. After all, the device has no camera. But other people will probably come to love Photos most of all. It's a beautifully designed app, with photo galleries displayed in stacks of images that you can pinch open and closed with two fingers. The iPad makes a fantastic photo album (and digital photo frame), thanks again to that big screen. If you sync the iPad with iPhoto, Photos will also let you browse via iPhoto's Events, Faces and Places views.
Just about the only thing Photos doesn't do is let you edit your images. That's no big deal when you're using it as a photo frame, but a forthcoming iPad accessory will allow you to import photos and videos from your digital cameras into the iPad, making it a great photographer's companion as well. Presumably many third-party apps will rise to take on the challenge of cataloging, selecting, and editing of photos right on the iPad.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.