If you’re interested in seeing brilliant apps — creative works that push the edges of graphics, animation, video, and audio, delivering experiences that both educate and delight — you’ll find them almost exclusively on the iPad. (See the 'why' on this here.)
The tablet wars are in full swing. Buyers are scooping up iPads, Android tablets, and HP’s discontinued, but enormously popular, TouchPad (is it the $99 price?). Amazon’s forthcoming tablet is waiting in the wings.
All of them will give you enough basic content to keep you happy: Email, web browsers, YouTube, and plenty of usable apps. Some months ago, I put together a list of apps that run perfectly on either iPads or Android tablets.
But in that magical land called “state of the art,” the iPad stands virtually alone.
This Labor Day Weekend, take a look at my top 5 iPad app picks to see the richness available. This is only the beginning of this kind of full-fledged no-holds-barred multimedia development. If you know about other apps of this quality, please share them with your fellow Crosscut readers in the “Comments” window below.
1. New York Public Library Biblion: The 1939 New York World’s Fair (free)
Here’s an opportunity to time-travel back to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, courtesy of the New York Public Library. You can become immersed in the fair through essays, tons of photos, hand-written notes from the people who designed the fairgrounds, a portrait of the uneasy times in which it was launched, and the “marvels” that would transform our way of life — television, electric appliances, and, God help us, asbestos.
Among the most fascinating: An in-depth segment on the 5,000 year-old time capsule — a Westinghouse corporate project that buried a capsule in the fair’s Long Island site, engineered to withstand the next 50 centuries and to be opened in 6939. Contents include newsreels, textiles, silverware, tobacco, and asbestos, copies of Little Orphan Annie cartoons, and the master phone switchboard at NBC. (The capsule is still there, near the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.) Here's some video on the fair. (Any comparison to our own 1962 Seattle World’s Fair? See for yourself.)
This is the first Biblion project, but, the library assures us, not the last.
2. Al Gore’s “Our Choice” ($4.99)
Whether you believe or not in the former Vice President’s view of our planet’s environmental challenges, this is THE “must download” app if you want to see where visual and audio disciplines are taking what were once called "books." In 18 chapters Gore lays out both the environmental and political issues of climate change, and sets out choices we all have for securing the planet from future ravages. I viewed the app on an original iPad, which seemed to take forever to download all the supporting data. And there’s a ton of it: Pictures, video, and interactive charts. I would suspect the app eats up a gigabyte of your iPad’s memory, when it’s fully loaded. The downloading process may be faster on the more powerful iPad 2. But either way, the trip is well worth it. The layout is sound; the interactivity is intuitive. You wind up less involved in navigation than you will in exploring the topic.
3. Dark Prophecy, a digi-novel from Anthony E. Zuiker ($12.99)
More than a year ago, Zuiker, a creator of television’s long-running “CSI” franchise, first experimented with “Level 26,” combining a printed book with the multimedia capacities of the iPad. Users read a chapter, then watched a video that extended and (allegedly) enhanced the book text. My verdict: So-so. I gave up entirely on the video and just stayed with the novel. But this latest outing is a stunner. This time around, the whole book is on the iPad and, while you’re reading it — the story of a sinister serial killer who stages elaborate murders and the emotionally damaged investigator who must hunt him down — some very strange things happen.
Imagine you’re reading a page. Someone is sitting peaceably in his home, alone, at night . . . and then he hears something terrifying. And just as suddenly, droplets of blood begin splatting softly on your page, on your screen, as you’re reading about the terror that’s about to begin. I must admit I yelped when that first splatter dropped. Joined with an ever-present ominous music score just gnawing at the back of your mind, it’s a skillfully constructed mind game. If you dare go there, then do. It’s quite a trip.
4. Biophilia, by Bjork (free, with music purchases within the app)
The Icelandic pop goddess is always dabbling at the cutting edge of music, art, nature, and technology, and this app is certainly a next step in her own evolution. After a rambling preamble by David Attenborough, a cosmos of white skeletal solar system-like structures floating in a black sky emerge. Darts of color appear, as do various words such as “sacrifice” and “virus.” When I click on “virus,” I’m taken to the iPad app store and offered the chance to buy “Virus” at $1.99. I do so, and a pink screen comes up: I have bought, so I am told, “a love song describing infatuation [that] turns out to be about the dangerous relationship between biological virus and host.”
I click 'Play' and suddenly there are cells, pink and beautiful, with little green invasive forces infiltrating each cell so very slowly, so very deliberately. It is eerily beautiful, this treatise on love, biology and obsession, and Bjork’s intense childlike voice takes me in deeper, until the cell seems to be engulfed. Destroyed. After she stops singing, the field of cells remains. A tap on each of them, and music continues emanating from my choice of cells. What am I doing? Creating new life? Killing life?
I don’t begin to think I know what this all means.
More “songs” — if that term even applies — will be added to Biophilia, as will new music composition tools. If you're interested, visit her Biophilia website. And for others looking for someone to help them understand this, Rolling Stone has written a review. Im afraid I’m not much help, but it’s definitely worth experiencing the app.
5. Epic Citadel (free) You don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy the beauty of Epic Citadel. A weird kind of prequel for the “Infinity Blade” iPad game, it lets you into the medieval town where the role-playing “Blade” game is set, and allows you to wander through the many streets, buildings, and landscapes where Blade warriors chop and hack and kill each. But in Epic Citadal, all is quiet except for the sound of your feet and the sounds of wind and occasional birds. It is totally immersive. You are IN that village — and in no danger of someone spoiling for a fight. It may be the safest foreign land you can explore on Labor Day.
Epic Citadel is a perfect example of why developing brilliant apps for Android tablets is so difficult. Hint: it’s not a technology issue.