Reading is done more and more on iPads. The challenge truly is deciding which store and app to embrace when purchasing content. What kind of apps are available? What are your options for free content? This guide will steer you in the right direction.
Essential Apps
  • iBooks
    Free
    Apple
    Apple has created a lovely reading app for the iPad. iBooks is truly wonderful in its user interface and reading experience. The app also enables users to sync their own ePub or PDF documents. The reading experience is amazing and the ability to purchase books within the app and have those books sync wirelessly to other iPads and iPhones makes it great for the die-hard Apple user. iBooks will not only sync the books, but also notes, bookmarks, and current page status over to the other iDevices registered to your iTunes account. In our testing, the wireless sync feature worked as advertised with only a few hiccups. Apple uses the "Open In iBooks" feature for PDFs to store PDFs from Mail, Safari or 3rd party apps within iBooks. You can add ePub books as well. The store itself is more limited than Amazon's Kindle Store but this will change in the coming months as more and more publishers add their content to the iBookstore. The iBookstore even enables self-publishing without the need of a publishing house, opening the store up to even more content.
  • OverDrive Media Console – Library eBooks and Audiobooks
    Free
    OverDrive, Inc.
    OverDrive Media Console also earns our Essential title for one important reason: free content! Sure, other e-reader apps are free and have some free content. But the free content in apps like iBooks is either so old that the copyright has run out or it is written by an unknown author. OverDrive, which is both free and universal, hooks into over 13,000 libraries worldwide. If you are lucky enough that your library is part of the system, then you can download free, contemporary, popular titles. There are limitations: Overdrive is not as pretty or feature-filled as iBooks, and the others. Also, it is a library system, not a store, so you don't get to keep the e-books indefinitely. But if you just want to read the hot new best-seller for free on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, then you'll need to download this app!
  • Kindle – Read Books, Magazines & More – Over 1 Million eBooks & Newspapers
    Free
    AMZN Mobile LLC
    Amazon was the first to bring eReading to the masses. Though iBooks is a prettier app overall, the advantage of the Kindle is its huge library of titles available for purchase. To purchase new Kindle books you are taken out of the app and taken to Safari to purchase new books, versus iBooks and its in app purchase. This is due to limitations set by Apple. Kindle, just like iBooks, syncs to multiple devices (including Kindle devices) to make it easy to read anywhere. Reading options include brightness controls, black, sepia or white backgrounds, and font size controls. While reading you are able to highlight sections of the book or take notes on parts of the text and look up words in the dictionary with a tap. Another cool thing about Kindle is that if your local library allows it, you can borrow books for free (via the Overdrive app). If you do choose to purchase the book after the lending period ends, all of your highlights, notes, and bookmarks will be saved.
  • Bluefire Reader
    Free
    Bluefire Productions
    Another excellent choice is Bluefire Reader. What sets this one apart from the crowd is the freedom of choice it gives you. You can buy from a variety of sources, including international bookstores, from right within the app. You can even read books you have already purchased from a number of other sources via their partnership with bookstores that sell and support Adobe Digital Rights Managed eBooks. Free books are easy to find and download within the app, whether you want public domain classic books or books from self-published authors. The reading experience is on par with most of the others, though it does lack one of my favorite features, the tap-accessible dictionary. But its flexibility makes this app absolutely essential for people that don't want to be tied down to one ecosystem.
Notable Apps
  • NOOK by Barnes & Noble
    Free
    Barnes & Noble
    Barnes and Nobles got started in the eBook market in January of 2010 with their Nook eBook reader. Barnes and Nobles attempts to emulate the Kindle experience by allowing you to read your content on any device. The store contains plenty of content and prices mirror that of Apple's and Amazon's eBooks. One killer feature of BN eReader is the total control of page formatting. The reader can choose the publisher defaults or customize fonts, size, spacing, page colors, text colors, highlight colors, link colors, and justification. The app allows you to save your favorite settings as a theme to use again. Although you can borrow library books on a Nook device, as of yet, you can't do it on an iDevice with this app.
  • eBooks by Kobo HD
    Free
    Kobo Inc.
    Kobo used to be the official Borders eBook app before Borders went out of business. This is a nice enough app - the reading experience is on par with the Kindle, including brightness controls, text size, four different fonts, and three different page transitions. You can add ePub and PDF books. There is even a social component, where you can share your reading experiences with friends, and even earn rewards for your reading. There is a Kobo eReader, but obviously it's not as popular as the Kindle and Nook devices, and who knows if the industry can really support more than two different e-reader brands. Personally, I wouldn't invest a lot of money in an ecosystem whose future is unsure.
Decent Apps
  • Unlimited Free Books – Wattpad eBook Reader
    Free
    Wattpad
    Offering over 110,000 free eBooks, WattPad is an interesting app. The app is loaded with tons of free eBooks, some of which are copyrighted materials. These eBooks are all submitted by the WattPad community. After an author finds their work without the proper licensing they can get the books removed from the app. The app offers a different reading experience. Instead of flipping pages, the reader sets a scroll speed and the page will simply scroll down automatically as you read. Overall the experience is pretty good and the amount of content makes this app worth a look. The app is by no means perfect and is no match for the others.
  • Stanza
    Free
    Lexcycle
    I mention this app here only to tell you to avoid it. Although it was a very nice app at one time, one of the top e-readers, it has been purchased by Amazon. Rumor has it that the app has been abandoned, which means it will no longer be getting any updates. Don't waste your time on this one.
Other Apps