Smithsonian Channel for iPad smart, smartens you

Spoiler alert! If you enjoy educational video, Smithsonian Channel for iPad is about as smart an app as you can download. It’s a smart app for smart people who are smart enough to know a good value. Best buy.

Smithsonian Channel for iPad deserves its app of the week status. There’s no getting around it. And if you want to find out for yourself, it’s free. You don’t have to take my word for it.

Of course, if you vote Republican you should avoid it entirely. It’s a classic example of government waste funded by our tax dollars. By definition, it not only has no value, it’s a leech our our most precious value, our money. Of course, people are easily fooled into believing this nonsense because they never avail themselves of perfectly good educational materials funded by the government.

Now I can’t prove a direct causal connection between your tax dollars and this wonderful app, but I don’t need to. I’m sure that last paragraph will be emailed (isolated and out of context) to Apple and government haters before the review is even published.

In addition, at some time in the future Smithsonian Channel for iPad will have to be downloaded with the disclaimer, “No tax dollars were spent on the development or distribution of this app” to avoid having the Smithsonian fall to the same fate as NPR and funding for the arts.

At least the Smithsonian Channel for iPad doesn’t come with free birth control.

The videos section uses three rows to browse and navigate available episodes and informational features. The features span a variety of topics and interests.

At first glance, the app looks great but hardly innovative. You can browse for previously produced videos and Smithsonian Channel episodes using a three row navigation pane similar to those introduced by NPR and other providers in the early months of the iPad. They can also explore the scheduling section to find when episodes will be broadcast, and watch promotional features for upcoming shows.

The schedule section lets you find upcoming episodes of shows or topics that might interest you. You can also stream previews and spots to see what the series will cover.

Not every episode is available for streaming on the app, but the guide will provide several scheduled broadcasts times. It would be nice if the Smithsonian had an alert or reminder feature, but it’s a free app. Maybe that will come with a future premium release for a couple of dollars.

One of the advantages of watching Smithsonian broadcasts over cable networks like The History Channel is the government support. Producers don’t have to scramble for audiences and commercial support. As a consequence, the channel doesn’t air a lot of episodes on alien artifacts, ancient relics and jousting bouts for fans who dress in medieval costumes on weekends, put honey in lemon juice and call it mead.

By far the most innovative feature is the personal story space. Users can drag favorite topics into the story telling circle and select from clusters of related features. Each bubble previews a topic and lists the number of videos available to stream. Viewers can even add features to a personal storyline to view several features without interruption.

The story circle interface is compelling, but could be confusing until you get used to it. You could have several dozen stories floating in the circle wating for you to select one. You can’t see a topic until you press on a random item to see its description. Fortunately, Smithsonian Channel for iPad controls the noise by limiting the circle to three topic areas at time. It doesn’t take long to get the hang or it, and you have the option to switch to the more standard features navigation.

The story space is a spectacular feat of interface design and development. You can float related topics in the story circle and add the ones you want to view to the story line.

The design is clean and striking. Colors balance well and interface animation elegant and responsive to touch. The entire app looks slick and polished, thought through from the ground up. Smithsonian Channel for iPad took no shortcuts, although they left room for additional features.

It can be buggy. The app would freeze when I had several other apps running in the background and I didn’t give the interface elements time to load completely before I started tapping on elements. But these are rare and easily fixed.

Jenny Manytoes rates Smithsonian Channel for iPad

Jenny Manytoes would make biscuits all over Smithsonian Channel for iPad. It’s a rare combination of eye candy and brain food. Since it’s free I feel odd calling it a best buy, but it would still be a best buy for two or three dollars.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.



About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 5 Stars + Best Buy, Education, Free, Interactive. Bookmark the permalink.

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