When I got my first iPad on launch in 2010 the first thing I wanted to buy was The Elements app, which I kept hearing so much about in the media. Not because I am passionate about science and elements – I was one of the people who was consistently forcing the room to be evacuated in science class by doing stupid things. However, if only I had this app and an iPad way back then in the dark ages then perhaps that would have been a different story.
Therefore, I had great interest when I heard about a new electronic book app on the Solar System in the same style as The Elements. I am no sci-fi fanboy either. I can take science fiction films and “The Sky at Night” with a pinch of salt, however knowing what I knew and loved about The Elements I wanted to see if Solar System could do itself justice and boy has it ever, more so in fact. If all learning was this much fun I’m sure I would be a nuclear physicist by now but alas, unless Touch Press want to cover everything in the national curriculum with their eBooks I will have to make do for now.
As for the Solar System’s functionality, it is very similar to The Elements in both layout and operation. If you are not familiar with the former you can explore the app in a couple of ways. You can go through it like a book from start to finish by using the next page button in the bottom right hand corner until you get to the end. There is such a wealth of knowledge here that it will take you a fair while to do that not forgetting the most important part, which is to play with everything. The other way you can do it is from the home page. Every planet, moon, asteroid and more are laid out in front of you all having their own animation so the images are not simply static photos. Click on anything and it will take you to the first page about that item where you can then scroll through to the end of that particular topic.
Each item has a clear picture on the first page which you can play with. You can double tap to eradicate all the text so you just have the item in space for you to maneuver around to your hearts content. Different pages have different things you can do. Some items you can rotate around, some are pictures which you can zoom in and out of or twist around and some are graphics which have a couple of stages to their animations. For example in the pictures below you can peel back the outer layer and then the inner orange layer. Neat stuff for what could have simply had a couple of images but that wouldn’t suffice for this app.
The Earth section has a page explaining about our home being a water planet. Showing the variety in way which the Solar System displays information to you keeping you entertained, half the right hand side of the page has beautiful video of Niagara falls rather than a simple picture.
What about the statistics, is everything in the app exact? No. But, that is only on a scale level and Touch Press make sure to explain whenever something is not to scale. They give written descriptions and comparisons which I found quite astonishing when thinking about them. This is a great way around not being able to display certain things due to the vastness of the universe, which is understandable.
Do I have any criticisms? Not too many if I am honest. The one which stood out the most to me was lack of sound. When you first open the app you get a nice orchestral track playing (not quite as entertaining as the Tom Lehrer track on The Elements) but I don’t image Stephen Hawking is going to be recording any comedic songs on the Solar System just yet. You also get a nice orchestral tone whenever you go to the home page which adds to the “wonder” of the topic you are about to explore. However this is where the sound ends. There are several videos and animations in the app which are stunning to watch like planets colliding, solar flares exploding etc. however I feel they could be more entertaining and engrossing with sound effects fitting to the action. Although, when I think harder on the matter, do we actually know what planets colliding would sound like, or a solar burst from the sun? I am no astronomer so I do not know for certain whether these sounds have ever been heard or recorded but with us having being spoilt by cinema and gaming sound effects I do feel sound would have been good on relevant sections whether we know what they factually sound like or just assume.
Would I recommend this app to people? Of course I would. Especially as what seems to dominate the eBook aspect of the app store is mainly child orientated, it is nice to have some things aimed at everyone. Although I do understand some people may frown at the weighty price point ($13.99) I do feel the work that has gone into the app, the knowledge you gain from it and the longevity (I still look at my Elements app a year later) of it then the price point should be considered an investment in yourself, and not just and investment in entertainment. Five stars.