Digital Reading Room: Rich man, Poe man

[As tablets get more powerful, with more memory and sharper-looking screens, their apps are getting a makeover. Increasingly, mobile apps employ multimedia—combining words, pictures, audio, and video—in new and interesting ways. In our Digital Reading Room series, we’ll look at some eye-catching multimedia apps and tell you which ones deserve a place on your mobile device.]

We resume our regular look at content-rich apps for your tablet with a quartet of offerings for you to ponder, weak and weary, the next time you fire up your iPad upon a midnight dreary. Some of these volumes of forgotten lore are quaint, some are curious, and at least one had us screaming “Nevermore.”

iPoe

This screen shot from The Masque of the Red Death is representative of the beautiful layout and captivating images in iPoe. But what’s not evident from this still image—the background music and subtle animations of the image—are major reasons why iPoe is much more than an eBook.

The last time I read anything by Edgar Allan Poe was for my high school English class, and even though that was long ago, I’ve often recalled Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” many times, wondering at its unusual mélange of rapturous beauty and worldly horror. Returning to that poem and three of Poe’s short stories in iPoe: The Interactive and Illustrated Edgar Allen Poe Collection was truly a treat. The app beautifully enhances Poe’s writing with illustrations by David Garcia Forés, most of which are subtly animated and interactive. The spooky soundtrack and occasional sound effects are less impressive, but because they are simple and fitting, add perfect ambience.

The three stories in iPoe are The Oval Portrait, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Masque of the Red Death. Also included are a brief, well-written biography of Poe and a sketchbook that features line drawings of images from the stories, which you can swipe to reveal their colorings. Simple, but fun.

iPoe does suffer from a primitive, ultralinear navigation scheme; you start at the beginning, turn all pages forward or back one at a time, and when you get to the end, the only way to go back to the start is by literally tapping on the back arrow time after time after time. This complaint would, for most eBook apps, significantly reduce their value. But in context, the superb quality of every iPoe page renders this flaw nearly irrelevant.

Where to Get It: $4; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download.

Ask Magazine

This Ask Magazine article on numbers incorporates problems based on the text; the answer is revealed with a single tap—just one of the many interactive features in this digital magazine.

Ask, a science and math periodical targeted at 6- to 9-year-olds and published by the Cricket Magazine Group, provides a terrific example of how print content can be repackaged for tablets with its iPad app. It’s easy to navigate, includes an interactive or multimedia element on almost every page, and is tightly integrated with the magazine’s website (which includes worthwhile bonus material).

Other publishers who offer wares through iOS’s Newsstand feature could stand to take a look at Ask’s bookmarking and note-taking menu tools: This is the first time I’ve seen these elements in a digital magazine, and it seems ironic to come upon them first in a children’s magazine, when such simple functions seem like they should be standard for digital magazines.

Though it’s always a bit of a risk when an adult assesses content aimed at children, Ask Magazine for the iPad seems to be a real winner. And the yearly subscription rate for the digital edition offers a nice discount from what you’d pay for the printed version.

Where to Get It: $2 monthly subscription; $18 yearly subscription; iOS App Store

The Verdict: A definite buy for anyone with a kid in Ask Magazine’s age range.

Presidents of U.S.A.

Can you spot the errors? Presidents of the U.S.A. is full of them, as this screen shot demonstrates.

Presidents of U.S.A. could shine as an educational app—if it’s used to as a cautionary lesson for developers. It’s difficult to find anything positive in this mess of information (and misinformation);even the app’s name doesn’t work. The screenshot accompanying this short review is representative of the types of factual and design errors throughout the app. In the timeline on the left, H.R. Haldeman is misspelled, and among the list of Nixon’s “achievements” are that he “ended segregation.” (Where’s the statue?) The infographics are shameful, with no correlation between the graphics and info. (Is that a bar chart? And what happened to the other two segments of the “Electoral vote” circle?) To save you (and me) some time: Presidents of U.S.A. is a lousy app: Vote with your feet and give it a wide berth.

Where to Get It: $1; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Stay away.

American Presidents for iPad

This timeline featuring images of the presidents and major events during their administrations is your primary method for finding all the reference material in American Presidents.

American Presidents for iPad is a solid reference app that provides brief, encyclopedia-like biographies and images of each president, the full text of primary documents (texts of important speeches as well as the Declaration of Independence and Constitution), short quizzes, and links to reputable websites with additional information. Lots of thought seems to have gone into the production of American Presidents. A timeline that combines cartoon images of each president at the top with important events during the presidency at the bottom (even those not related to the president, such as major inventions and discoveries) is the primary method of navigating through the app. But menus and internal links also help you get around.

American Presidents is a very good app that would be excellent if it provided tools for bookmarking and taking notes. It could also be improved with the addition of some audio and video elements.

Where to Get It: $4; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Worth a look.

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