Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life (iOS)

Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life is another scientific app based on a show from the BBC, with great video and interactive sections that help you learn the scientific basis for life as we know it. Professor Brian Cox is your guide and narrator as you explore the app.

In the past, I wrote about Wonders of the Universe from the same publisher; an elegant and visually gorgeous app that let you explore our known universe on your iPad.

I liked Wonders of the Universe quite a lot for the ability to explore the universe and the HD graphics (particularly with the retina display). But with this new app, the content is laid out in such a way that it continually interrupts the enjoyment of exploring the science behind life. With a mix of videos, text, interactive photos, and great musical score, there is plenty of great content here. But the mix doesn’t flow together well, and has a way of pulling you out of enjoying the overall experience.

Follow the story
Unlike Wonders of the Universe, I found that your best bet with this app is to follow along with the story as it was intended using “Brian’s Tour” rather than browsing around freely. The problem is that if you browse around, you’ll lose the context of the story, and looking at a specific section doesn’t provide you with much interaction. To get the best experience, touch the thumbnails across the bottom of the screen sequentially from left to right so you can follow the story.

As you progress, you’ll come across thumbnail photos you can swipe upward to read more and also watch videos. Often when you swipe a thumbnail up, you’ll also get an image in motion (like a looping animated GIF), along with music that introduces the section you’re learning about.

With another swipe upward, you can read through the story, and in-line HD videos play automatically as you scroll through the text, while images darken the rest of the screen so you can get a closer look. To get back to reading, you simply swipe up again, and the image or video minimizes back into the page to where you left off.

There are also lots of smaller interactions as you follow the narrative that are really neat. As an example, you can browse to a living animated cave-like setting where an animated camera is taking burst shots as bent-wing bats fly by. Touch the bent-wing bat indicator on-screen, and you’ll be presented with high resolution shots of the bats as they fly by. It’s really neat to see things like this close up, and you can then pull the thumbnail up from the bottom of the screen to read more and watch an HD video about them to get the full story.

Great content, questionable presentation
There is a lot of fantastic scientific information here to explore (I can’t stress this enough), but I have several issues with the way much of it is displayed.

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