So, congratulations! Perhaps you're the owner of a new iPad this holiday season. If so, you've come to the right place. Apple's tablet is incredibly easy to use, but there are still plenty of ways to set up and optimize your iPad to take advantage of everything it has to offer. Some of these suggestions may be obvious; others might not.
Regardless, here's what I do when I take a new iPad out of its crisp white box. I think you should do the same. At the least, these tips should help you get on your feet.
Set up your new iPad
By the way, none of this involves ever connecting to a PC or Mac to sync. In fact, I'm going to encourage you to live as sync-free as possible to save a little sanity and have a little more fun.
1. Restore your old backup, and get to know iCloud. If this is your first iPad, you have nothing to restore. But, if you have an iPad already and are upgrading, you can get your basic settings and saved data on your new iPad by restoring from a backup on iTunes, or wirelessly via iCloud if you've already set that up.
If this is your first iPad but you have an iPhone or a Mac, iCloud is your easy setup. Apple guides you through that process the moment you start up your iPad. Use your existing Apple ID for syncing contacts, cloud-stored documents, mail, calendars, Safari bookmarks, photos in Photo Stream, and notes taken on the built-in Notes app. You'll also receive FaceTime calls and iMessages sent to you automatically. And, of course, your Apple ID connects your already-purchased iTunes and App Store content.
And I always keep "Find my iPad" turned on. That's the way you insure you can find your device if you lose it in your apartment or elsewhere. Download Apple's "Find my iPhone" app and you can ping any of your devices, remotely wipe them, or send an alert sound. Of course, your iPad needs to be on an available network. This has helped me on many, many occasions.
2. Find your free(ish) stuff. First, go to your iTunes or App Store apps and browse under "purchased" (it's usually hidden away under the "More" tab, or it's under "Updates" in the App Store). It's an ugly way to browse what you've already bought, but make sure you stock up on any iPhone apps you already own that are universal for iPad, and download music, movies, and books you already have.
And there's more. You don't have to pay for much, if you're smart. Newspapers, magazines, cable TV subscriptions, and pay TV channels like HBO often have apps providing extra free content. Link your subscriptions via e-mail addresses and passwords from those sites and publications and you'll be good to go. These services aren't actually free, but they're no-cost-added for you if you already pay for them, and they're great ways to get content on your iPad immediately.
Finally, there are always the truly free apps, especially around the holidays. Browse Apple's Top Free Apps list in the App Store for newcomers, and follow Web sites (like CNET) for news on notable releases, which usually come unannounced and, sadly, for a limited time...at least, for the good stuff. For games, I like following dedicated sites like TouchArcade to make sure I don't miss out.
3. Pick your cloud to live in. Apple has a variety of iCloud services, including iTunes Match for storing and streaming all your music on the go, but that's not the only way you can set up your iPad. Thanks to Google's excellent apps, you could live off Gmail, Google Docs, and lots of other Google services instead -- the Chrome app, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps, YouTube, and others make this easy. Or, you could store and stream your music and videos via Amazon and its Cloud Player (which works via the Web browser) or Amazon Instant Video. Either way, I'd seriously recommend you rely on cloud storage as much as possible, because syncing videos, music, and other files via your computer is a pain.
And when it comes to getting PDFs, EPUBs, and other files on your iPad, I suggest e-mailing them to yourself. You can open them up and save them to an app directly from Mail, and it saves a sync. They open up in many apps, including iBooks, the Kindle app, and PDF-specific apps like GoodReader -- just click "Open in" when you're reading the PDF and pick your compatible app. Alternatively, you could upload them to services like Dropbox, which works with many iOS apps already.
4. Add Twitter/Facebook. In iOS 6, you can bake in your Twitter and Facebook log-in so that you can share directly from your Camera Roll, or post links that you link directly from Safari. Twitter and Facebook are the social networks to fill the gap that Apple, unlike Google, doesn't natively provide. Go to Settings and look for the separate listings for Facebook and Twitter, and enter your info. Downloading any related apps will usually automatically log you in, too. But a word of advice: deactivate the "Contacts" and "Calendar" syncing with Facebook, otherwise your appointments and address info will suddenly become Facebook-ified with events and people you may not want on your phone. It's easily undone by unchecking these boxes at any time.
5. Tweak your notifications and privacy. Every app likes to scream out all its information all the time via banners and other annoying pop-ups on your home screen. You can override this by going to Notifications and unchecking all the various notifications options. There are many, but I'd suggest removing them all for apps you don't consider essential. Similarly, make sure you examine your Privacy settings, and deactivate (or activate) any location or information sharing you'd like on certain apps. You may not want your photos to be geotagged on social networks.
6. Make folders. Until there's a better way to organize apps on iOS, folders are there for you. You can drag up to 20 apps into a single folder. Name them after categories you use a lot (Video, Games, Writing), or by user (Son, Wife, Mom). Properly named, folders can help you feel less cluttered.
7. Switch the side toggle to "lock rotation." iOS offers two ways to use the button next to the volume rocker on iPads: as a mute button (similar to the iPhone), and to lock rotation. Mute makes little sense, since your iPad probably won't ring and there's no vibrate mode (just enable Sound Effects settings and lower the volume to zero, and it does the same thing). Instead, use it lock into horizontal or vertical modes when reading. That way, when you're lounging on a bed with a good e-book, it won't suddenly flip sideways when you do. These adjustments are in Settings.
8. Get a few good apps. There are tons of options, obviously, and tons of use cases, but I like the Kindle App for e-reading, Flipboard for news, YouTube/Netflix/Hulu Plus, Pages for writing, Google Maps as a must-have Apple Maps replacement, Evernote for general note-taking, and Plants vs. Zombies, Ticket to Ride, and Angry Birds Space as must-have first-day games (read our must-have games list for more ideas). Even better, ask friends who use an iPad what they're using.
9. Get a good case. Or a bag. The iPad just comes with a Lightning cable for syncing and charging, nothing more. You need some sort of protection. Apple's own Smart Cover is a clever multi-use accessory that protects the screen, but not the back. If you're a large-iPad owner, consider something that docks easily with a keyboard. For the Mini, a booklike folio cover feels best. And don't go overboard with specialty bags; something with separate pockets and padding and can still hold other stuff works best. Read my advice on that matter here.
Do you have any other first-day tips or suggestions I missed? Share them below.