I honestly can't tell you what it's like to see and touch and consume news, magazines and comics on the iPad. You just have to experience it. But I can tell you what to read to blow your mind.
News, News, News
Unlike the iPhone, there are a ton of ways to consume news right out of the gate—from pretty much any news source you want—and they're really impressive all around, for a variety of reasons.
The New York Times
The NYT Editors Choice app is really what it says: A small selection of the NYT's best articles from that day, chosen by the editors and presented in an app that combines the feel of the familiar NYT Reader (built on Adobe AIR) and web-based NYT skimmer. There are four sections—latest news, business & technology, opinions, and features (which has that day's special section, like Style, for instance)—with 8 to 10 articles in each, usually packed with a video and slideshow gallery. You can sync them to read offline, but there's no really archival capability. Kind of limited but the NYT plans to "keep refining and upgrading the application," so expect it to get richer over time. For now though, it's free and ad-supported.
To get everything else, there's the NYT iPad-optimized website, which has iPad-friendly layout, and much of the video content is ready to be played on the iPad.
The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal iPad might in fact be the best of breed now, at least in terms of delivering the full content of the newspaper. But you're gonna pay for it. The free version gives you top stories, market data, and videos and slideshows. For the scoff-inducing price of $3.99 a week (or free "for a limited time" if you're already a subscriber), you get access to subscriber only content like Business, Markets, Opinion and more, and you can keep a weeklong archive of every article that's in the printed paper. Though slightly reminiscient of the WSJ website, of the three major newspapers with iPad apps, it states the most archly, "I am a newspaper," which is kind of comforting, actually.
One of the busier news apps, navigation is dominated by sliding "tapes" for topics like news, or arts & life. It's one of the apps that has me excited about the iPad as an information appliance, since you can read stories—which you can download for offline reading—while you listen to the broadcasts in an immersive kind of way. Plus, you know, it's NPR. It's also got an iPad-optimized site.
Perhaps a bit conceptually and visually overwrought, the AP app works real hard to present the news differently than anybody else—virtual stacks of stories, a pinboard metaphor and other flighty flourishes abound—but it's also possibly the most interesting, making use of multimedia, location and other features, taking this whole "app" thing pretty far out there for a simple news app.
Honestly, I don't consider much of USA Today's content worth reading—or at least none of my first-year journalism professors did, so I haven't picked it up in years—but the app's worth checking out, if only because it has the least to lose in terms of people thinking of it as a newspaper so it plays with things, like popover widgets of sports scores and weather. USA Today is a newspaper as a bright, buzzy app.
Magazines don't yet have their own special store, or even section of the iBooks or App Store—they're just apps. There aren't as many as we'd have expected, and some of our favorites, like Wired, are missing. But some are definitely more interesting than others.
Time wants $5 an iPad issue, the same as the newsstand, so it's no coincidence they attempt a fairly tight transliteration of the print mag to interactive iPad app. Everything from the print mag makes it into the digital, along with some extra international stuff, photos and video. It's nothing that'll blow your head off with its amazingness, but it feels really natural, and far better than most of the other weak iPhone/iPad mag apps. Or! If you don't wanna pay $5, they have an iPad-optimized website.
Come for the photography, stay for the…photography, which it emphasizes above all else. Though not as impressive as Time as a full package, it fully embraces the iPad as a canvas for showing beautiful clothing that you can pinch and zoom and feel, even if takes some aspects of the translation a bit literally. Navigation is sort of weird—you actually navigate via full-sized images for the articles, and then the article drops down from there. Not the most gorgeous implementation, once the text is in play. But still solid. Plus side: It's $3 for a universal iPhone/iPad app. Besides, there's no Esquire app yet.
Sadly not an app, just an iPad-lovin website for now.
Digital Americana Magazine
Included because it's like somebody scanned a magazine and turned it into an iPad for 99 cents. Hahaha.
Gizmodo, now better, faster, stronger—and iPad-optimized. Do check out the beta version of our new site. We think you'll like it.
You need an RSS reader, and NewsRack is our favorite at the moment—plus it's universal iPad/iPhone app, so you only need to buy it once.
Not a thing you should read, but a how you should read. Save the text of any webpage for offline reading in a layout that's perfectly designed for the iPad. Since it pulls out the ads and lets you read it whenever you want, think of it like TiVo for websites, but for only $5 forever.
The most awesome way you've ever browsed Wikipedia. Free, or $5.
The flagship comic app, and not just because it's Marvel. Here's what Jason says: Good, but not fantastic. Portrait mode is good for reading the entire page, and you can double-tap to zoom in to a specific panel, which is great for landscape. Then swipe forward (or backwards) and it'll advance or go back panels. The major omission I see is the lack of double-page mode in landscape, so you can see two-page layouts (when something crazy or dramatic happens) the way they were meant to be seen in comic books.
An upsized version of the iPhone app, with favorites like Transformers.
Another iPhone up-port, whose premiere superpower is that it's got comics to buy from multiple publishers.
Your .CBR and .CRZ Comic Collection
No, the iPad doesn't actually support .cbr or .cbz files, the most popular formats for digital comics. But! The iPad does support epub, and you can convert cbr and cbz files into epubs with this simple tool. Or you could buy an app like Comic Reader Mobi, if you're lazy.
Your Kindle Books
The Amazon Kindle iPad app is the most gorgeous way to browse and read all of your Kindle books. Period. And, for now, the Kindle Store has wayyy more books than the iBookstore.
The official Apple way to get ebooks for the iPad, the iBooks store has just 60,000 books in it for now, all in the ePub format. A lot of them are free out-of-copyright ebooks from Project Gutenberg, like The Art of the War, so there'll be lots of traditional ebooks to read.
Toy Story Read Along
Even if you don't have a child, Toy Story Read Along is a wonderful fully digital rendition of the classic interactive children's book. And it's free. Toy Story 2 is not free.
All of Your DRM-free Ebooks in Epub Format
Already got books in the epub format that are DRM-free, like for a Sony Reader? You can load them onto your iPad. Have ebooks not in the epub format? Well, you can convert them. The best one-stop shop solution is calibre, which can convert a wide variety of formats into the iPad-friendly epub format.
Um, The Future
I've saved two reading experiences for last, the two you must download. They're like touching the future of reading.
Popular Science's slogan "the future now" comes true for the first time in a long time with a magazine experience that's truly feels like it's a little slice of what's coming, even with imperfections—swiping to turn the page doesn't always work unless you're absolutely careful about making a straight, horizontal line with your fingers, and missing features you'd expect like pinch-to-zoom (to really dive deep on gorgeous graphics and photos). And it's still a little too self-contained of an object, to precious to link to the outside world. But you hold it, and you get excited about what magazines will be like in a year.
Elements: A Visual Exploration
If you buy nothing else today, buy Elements: A Visual Exploration. It will blow your mind, and make you think about what books in an entirely new way. (Though it desperately needs a sexier app icon.) I don't want to ruin the experience by telling you too much about it. Just buy it.
Anything else that you think people should read immediately? Let me know.