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Best iPad app for productivity 2021: Get work done

The amount of work I can get done on Apple's tablet keeps increasing. These apps are my secret.

For nearly a decade, the iPad has been a critical part of my daily workflow. From managing my inbox to coordinating my schedule and writing countless stories, notes, touching up photos, and even editing video -- I've done it all on the iPad. As the hardware and software have improved, the amount of work I could get done on the tablet has only increased. Even though it took nearly a decade for the iPad to get its own operating system, the key to using an iPad as a work computer has always been apps. 

Not just apps from Apple, but third-party apps from developers who have remained committed to providing high-quality tools for iPad users. Below, you'll find just a handful of iPad apps that make using the tablet for work-related tasks -- and not just browsing the web or watching Apple TV Plus -- possible. 

Spark Mail

Collaborate on important emails

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Pricing: Starts at $6.39 a month per user

After years of using Apple's Mail app, I've finally made the switch to Readle's Spark mail app across all of my devices. With features like the ability to schedule when an email is sent, email templates, or snooze emails for action at a later time it's been invaluable for me. 

But for business and enterprise users, there are more valuable features like the ability to create a team and work on composing emails together, with each person participating from their own devices. There are various pricing tiers, based on how much you plan on using the Teams feature. If you have a small team, you likely won't have to sign up for a subscription. 

Fantastical and Cardhop

A Flexibits Premium subscription now includes both apps

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Pricing: Yearly cost of $40

Flexibits moved its apps over to a subscription model, with a yearly cost of $40, but it now includes two of the company's apps: Fantastical and Cardhop. The former is a calendar app that is truly a joy to use, and Cardhop takes a similar approach to help you manage your contacts. 

Fantastical is one of the best calendar apps available for the iPad. It combines your tasks and calendar entries into one app, and it's easy to use thanks to features like being able to create a new entry just by typing a single line of text. For example, if you enter "Meeting with David next Thursday at 3" the appointment will be created without any further effort on your part. 

You can use either app for free with some features reserved for a premium account. 

1Password

You do use a password manager, right?

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Pricing: $3.99 for an individual or $6.99 for a family of five

1Password creates unique passwords for your online accounts, stores them all, and enters them automatically for you in apps and websites. It comes with a 30-day free trial, after which you can sign up for a monthly subscription.

iA Writer

A simple text editor

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Pricing: $29.99

I've tried many writing apps over the years, and I always come back to iA Writer. It's a simple, straight forward text editor that supports the Markdown syntax. You don't have to use Markdown to write, but it makes it easier to export your documents for Word or even in HTML. You can sync your work through iA Writer's built-in support for third-party storage services.  

Microsoft 365

Outlook works for any email account, by the way

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Pricing: Personal is $6.99 per month; Family is $9.99 per month

If your employer uses Microsoft 365, Microsoft's suite of apps are available for the iPad. Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are all fantastic apps to get work done with. You'll need a Microsoft 365 subscription to use apps like Word or Excel, however, anyone can use Outlook as their main email app without any fees.

Google Workspace apps

There are a lot of Google apps

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Pricing: Free

For those who use Google products instead of Office 365, Google all of its core apps available in the App Store. Personally, I use Docs and Sheets on a daily basis. I don't recommend using the Gmail app unless you absolutely have to. It doesn't support multitasking, and adding attachments is more or less limited to your photo library or Google Drive. 

PDF Expert

Dealing with PDFs can be a hassle

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Pricing: $49.99 a year

PDF Expert is more than just a PDF reader. This single app lets you edit PDF files, including images and text, along with annotating and marking up a document. I use it to sign documents, fill out forms, and open ZIP files (seriously, it's the most reliable app for opening ZIP files I've used on the iPad). 

If you deal with a lot of PDF files, then PDF Expert is the way to go. It's free to download and use for basic tasks, but you'll need a Pro subscription ($49.99 a year) if you want to edit PDFs and sign documents. Here's a breakdown of features unlocked by the subscription.

SignEasy

For when you need to sign a document

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Pricing: Subscription plans vary on needs

SignEasy is a streamlined app for signing documents or sending a document to be signed by a client or coworker. While PDF Expert has a signature feature, it also is a lot of extra app for someone who doesn't need to edit and manipulate PDFs.

SignEasy has one job, and it does it well. You can download the app for free, and then sign up for a subscription based on your needs, or purchase 10 signatures up front for $10. 

How did we choose these productivity apps?

I've used a large number of iPad apps over the last decade. Some were good, others have been great. I tried to approach this list by looking at those apps that only meet the latter requirement. Of course, apps like Slack and Zoom are great, but they're more common than ever. Each one of these apps fits a specific role and provides a unique experience that improves upon what Apple includes in iPadOS on its own. 

Which productivity apps are right for you?

Every app in this list includes at least some free functionality. I suggest downloading all of them and tap or swipe your way through it. Get a feel for the app, its design, and its approach to its core features. If you don't like the overall experience, keep searching. There are countless high-quality iPad apps in the Apple App Store.