Digital Reading Room: The Collector

[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.]

How much is curated content worth to you? The Atlantic is about to find out, as it gets into the subcompact publishing business with a new iPhone and iPad app that grabs a selection of content from various Atlantic websites. Two other apps we examine this week offering differing views—one into the past and one into outer space—but only one really proves to be worth a look.

The Atlantic Weekly

The Atlantic Weekly, published within the Newsstand App every Friday, includes selections from three websites published by The Atlantic.

The Atlantic Weekly app makes it quite clear that its articles originally appeared on one of three Web sites—The Atlantic, The Atlantic Cites, or The Atlantic Wire The app offers a word-for-word reproduction of an article about Whitey Bulger but provides no links, even though that’s something Newsstand publications can easily include. Similarly, an interview with The Sports Gene author David Epstein, published earlier this month on The Atlantic’s website, was missing two embedded YouTube videos that depicted two athletes mentioned in the article.

Each issue of The Weekly includes an article from The Atlantic magazine’s archive—a piece about Richard Nixon originally published in 1974, a 1927 Ernest Hemingway short story, Truman Capote’s 1948 prize-winning short story, “Shut A Final Door,” and a 1962 piece by Kingsley Martin on the British monarchy are examples.

Some newspapers have long published weekly digests—selections from the previous week’s daily issues—with the idea of saving some readers time, or of delivering their product to international readers at an affordable rate. The Atlantic Weekly is an extension of this tradition, part of a new self-curation tool. The content is excellent, but there seems to be little reason to exclude links and multimedia that can help add to a reader’s understanding or enjoyment of the articles.

Where to Get It: Free; iOS App Store (single issues are $2, monthly subscriptions $3, and yearly subscriptions $20)

The Verdict: Despite the great content, you can easily find those same articles via free daily and weekly newsletters.

New York & The Nation

According to New York & The Nation, among New York’s less celebrated contributions to the American way of life was its major role in the development of board games in the late 1800s.

New York & The Nation provides a straightforward overview of the New York Historical Society’s collection. The app, available for both Android and iOS, includes short videos of talking heads and images of objects, with their significance either written or narrated for context. Besides promoting the New York Historical Society, the app aims primarily to explain the key role of New York in the formation of the U.S.

With 12 different sections, the app’s richest parts delve into revolutionary-war era objects such as musket balls, bayonets, war maps and journals, horseshoes, and teapots, as well as portraits and busts of heroes like George Washington and Thomas Paine. Other items focus on the development of New York—photos that show skyscrapers going up, and early subway workers tunneling down. Pop culture is represented by images and descriptions of old board games and families picnicking and strolling in Central Park in the late 1800s, for example.

While New York & The Nation is far from a comprehensive history of the city (not that it’s intended to be), the eclectic selection of items combined with brief and excellent commentaries make for a fun and educational journey into the city’s past.

Where to Get It: Free; Google Play and iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download.

Kibo360°

Kibo360° gives you a lot to look at, but explains little. A few items marked by red circles include brief summaries of their functions, but the uses for many other objects are left unexplained.

Kibo360°, produced by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) enables you to explore the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM, aka Kibo), which is part of the International Space Station. Using the iPad version, you tilt and pan your tablet to view the module in all directions, and when you tap on different items, such as the Image Processing Unit or the Cell Biology Experiment Facility, a text box appears and explains, very briefly, what the item is used for. (JAXA says an Android version is coming soon.)

Kibo360° is fun to play with for 10 or 15 minutes, but the app ultimately raises many more questions than it answers. Many items look interesting but are unexplained—not even labeled. The app also lacks basic contextual information—how long has Kibo been functioning? What types of experiments have been carried out on Kibo, and how are the experiments chosen? What other nations, if any, make use of Kibo? More information and interactive elements are needed to make Kibo360° a good (and interesting) app.

Where to Get It: Free; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Many better free space-related apps are available.

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