The Natural History Museum leads us through the story of life on Earth
Following on from national legends like David Attenborough and Brian Cox, the Natural History Museum is the latest educational ‘institution’ to take steps into the world of iOS apps, with its download dedicated to the process of evolution. The app spans more than 600 million years in terms of the subjects and specimens it covers; from the first signs of life on earth to the current shape of our world and how the land masses have shifted over time. Content-wise this app can hold its own against any other, but it does have some tough questions to answer when it comes to its interface, especially as you venture deeper into the app.
On the homepage we have no issues however; the interactive screen framed by two resplendent pillars is not your typical app introduction, and the fact that every image on this page can be tapped to reveal more information makes for a very promising start. All of the artefacts on this opening screen relate to or are actual discoveries, and in many cases a tap will not just bring you a page of text about the fossil, but also a 360 degree image, so you can give it a real examination. This section alone will give you plenty of new knowledge and interesting facts, and it is a sign of things to come in terms of content.
One thing that can not be questioned is the power and usefulness of this app as a learning resource. Every section is detailed, well-labelled and accessible – all huge positives from an educational point of view. The only sticking point is that the app does feel a little wooden on occasions. When you compare it to other educational apps for the iPad – for example Journey to the Exoplanets or Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe – NHM Evolution doesn’t carry the same thrill and entertainment value that these two manage to put across without hindering the learning experience. This app feels like a museum app – like an interactive panel that you would find within the corridors or exhibitions of a museum. That’s not all bad, but given what we have seen is possible for educational apps on the iPad, you can’t help but feel underwhelmed at times as you scroll through the different screens.
The issue seems to be one of inconsistency; there are some pages, like the Timeband and the Exhibition sections, that are impressive feats of interactivity combined with an eye-catching interface. Yet the Timeglobe is the victim of over-ambition in terms of animation, and as a result suffers from some bugging issues. This is a strange equation as there are other pages that look as if they could have done with a little more attention, for example the Timeline, which is a little one-dimensional compared to other areas. The nature of the interface is all rather confusing, but it shouldn’t detract from the positive points of this app, and they include the sheer depth and level of information that it has to offer.
The Library section is certainly worth a visit, as not only does it contain some more useful reference materials for those using the app as an education tool, there are ten tutorial videos for users to try out, each one on a different subject of evolution. These add even further depth to the app, and coupled with the audio narration that is available on some pages, NHM Evolution is in a position to call itself fully multimedia.
This app then is something of an enigma, in terms of content it is completely worth the hefty asking price, yet there are sections that could have done with a little more attention. However the home screen and several others are eye-catching, engaging and wonderfully intuitive. There are two sides to using this app, but its educational merit cannot be questioned. Some may scoff at the asking price, but if you have an interest in the process of evolution then this app comes highly recommended for its content alone.
If you can get past the inconsistent interface, NHM Evolution is packed with educational content.
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