Barefoot Atlas spins the world

Spoiler alert! Barefoot Atlas reminds me of the Miller Lite ads: Tastes great, less filling. Sometimes you want those calories. In fact, sometimes they’re good for you. Barefoot Atlas needs more calories, especially for $8. Four stars, but I suspect I’m being kind.


There was this girl. Her name was Shannon. She was, probably still is, drop dead gorgeous. When she walked into a room the guys stopped talking and the women they were with knew why, which made them want to punch the boys in the arm. She was perfect in every way until you talked to her.

Actually, once they talked to her some boys thought she was even more perfect. But most guys reacted like my friend Andrew who chatted her up and walked away shaking his head. “Nice house,” he said to me later. “Nobody home.” The girls who knew her weren’t so kind. One called her, “strictly second wife material.”

But Shannon’s another story. I only bring her up because I already used the Miller Lite joke in the spoiler alert, and because were Shannon to read this (which I doubt), she would never believer I meant her. If she even remembers me, which I doubt.

Barefoot Atlas reminds me of Shannon, but with more substance. Of course, a bag of air would have more substance than Shannon, but she was a sweet kid and not a mean girl, so I think I will let her shuffle off the pages of this blog for good. Barefoot Atlas, on the other hand, has just enough substance to make me want more.

Apple picked Barefoot Atlas as the iPad App of the Week, and nine times out of ten that means a really great interface. In the design and interface departments Barefoot Atlas delivers. But you can pretty much count on that before you download. That’s why I go ahead and give it an independent review.

Barefoot Atlas is marketed as a child’s introduction to atlases and geography. Children can circle the globe and focus on items of interest to learn more about the world around them. To that end, I suspect, the app delivers on his promise.

Barefoot Atlas pulls out select examples of the kinds of items children will encounter as they study geography. Children can spin the digital globe and see how countries are laid out and neighbor each other. Each country is designated by flag and each region by unique wildlife, personalities and architecture.

As readers roll the globe they find items of interest in the region. They can click on the character to reveal a description, audio file and access to a photo.

When readers click on a country’s flag, the app reveals the distance from their home towns, current temperature, and fun geographical facts such as elevation, currency and even carbon emission. If you detect a hint of sarcasm in that sentence there may have been a little since those stats are the same ones that put countless fellow students to sleep when I slept through geography class.

It’s hard to criticize well-meaning educators, especially such fine contributors as the Royal Geographic Society and BBC, but in my experience, if you want to interest children in geography give them the kinds of information they might be interested in. They can learn the boring stuff later.

Why not include stuff like the country’s best selling candy, and comic book super hero. How about popular fashions for young girls? Or regional sports and sports star? I bet your kids would be far more interested in a sound byte and photo of Japan’s Justin Bieber than knowing how tall Mt. Fujiyama is. The problem with educational programming designers is that they forget how bored they were in school.

Each flag reveals a wealth of information about that country, including the distance from the reader’s home. I’m not sure thay elevation and currency will engage readers (or that they will remember it), but the read out looks impressive.

Or worse, they were interested and couldn’t understand why the rest of us weren’t. Or why nobody invited them to the cool parties for that matter. One of these days I hope educators realize that you can’t make carbon admissions sexy.

My biggest concern is the way information is organized. Once a reader finds an item of interest, there’s no way to find related items of interest. Navigation links simply take you to the next country or item based on it’s alphabetical listing. They could at least offer links to online resources should readers actually find their interest piqued by famous expeditions or architecture.

Download time is a killer. I took several hours to download the app to my iPad, even after I turned off the simultaneous download in iTunes. This is a big app, with more than a gigabyte of animation and information (most animation).

If the information is boring, however, at least you can make the app sexy, and Barefoot Atlas is pretty sexy for a children’s app. The spinning globe is eye catching, and the information icons can be easily spotted and zoomed into. Many of the icons become animated at full size and, in some cases, are far more interesting than the information they convey.

I want to rate this lower, but I have to admit that the interface is engaging and colorful enough to at least keep young readers spinning the globe to look for more information with cool animations. As spare as the actual information is, I suspect readers will retain more of it than they will retain from a text book.

Jenny Manytoes rates Barefoot Atlas

Jenny Manytoes would purr next to Barefoot Atlas. But the app itself received far more attention than the information it conveys. I’m seriously tempted to rate it lower, especially considering the $8 price tag, but I can live with Jenny’s evaluation.

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.
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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 4 Stars - Purr, Education, Interactive and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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