3 Free Catalogs for iOS: Sky Mall, Ikea, Pottery Barn

| Free on iTunes

Who doesn’t enjoy a leisurely browse through a nice thick catalog? I know I do. When I was a kid my favorites were the Sears and JC Penny tomes. These were often thicker than a New York City phone directory, but they had all sorts of fodder for pie-in-the-skying and, oddly, discovery.

It’s where I learned what a brassiere was and what is was for, it’s how I found out where manifold gaskets go, and where I discovered what a duvet cover actually covers.

Mostly, catalogs were great for imagining. Ahh, the things I could build if I had this tool, the places I would go if I had that bike, and how people would be impressed if they saw me in those clothes. It was the best way to spend rainy afternoons.

I’m still a big fan of catalogs. One of my favorites was the Sharper Image catalog. There were all sorts of gadgets in those pages, stuff you never knew you needed. Another favorite is the catalog from Brookstone. Like Sharper Image, Brookstone’s catalogs were full of interesting odds and ends, things that made you wonder why hadn’t someone thought of it before, or why anyone bothered to make it. Everything in those magazines were fun, though.

When I fly I look forward to leafing through a copy Sky Mall. This catalog is a bit different in that it brings together an eclectic collection of products, from language tutoring packages to grill cooking accessories to baked goods for pets. You quite literally never know what you’ll find in a new issue of Sky Mall, which is why I was excited to learn that they have a free iPhone app. I imagined being able to flip simulated pages and discover odd, fascinating doodads.

I learned in my childhood, however, that imagination’s one thing, reality is another, and the reality of the Sky Mall app for iPhone is that it’s a big let-down. Forget about discovering anything in the app, it’s an inventory that lists its wares by category. It’s all very efficient and all very boring. It’s also very big, weighing in at 325 MB, and iPhone/iPod touch only.

Sky Mall

There’s no page flipping or even screen swiping. You tap this or that, or type in what think you’re looking for. One kinda fun feature is the Find a Gift option where you can dial in a range you want to pay and the type of person you’re buying for and the app will list appropriate gifts accordingly. You can even shake it to randomly select your options.

Sky Mall

The Sky Mall app is tedious, but it does list well over 10,000 items, it doesn’t require an Internet connection to use, and it even includes a Concentration game where you match product photos. And, as I said, it’s an efficient list, so if you know what you want you can easily find it in the app.

It’s free so grab it and use it as a companion to the paper catalog.

A much better virtual catalog can be had by downloading Ikea’s new iPad app.

iKea

Now, here’s a catalog that actually makes the paper version seem quaint. You swipe your way through the volume, exploring the different sections, or you can just casually browse. If you find something of interest you can swipe up and get a closer view of the items on a page and read the associated descriptions and prices.

Ikea

You can always get to the table of contents by tapping the Ikea logo in the upper left corner of the screen, and from there you can get to any section of the catalog. You don’t even need an Internet connection to browse.

Ikea

All of the cataloging goodness comes at a price, however. The app is small, only 2.6MB, but the 2012 catalog is 82MB. Not horrible, but not tiny either. But what would you expect? You get beautiful hi-rez pix of Ikea products, a fun to browse through app, and it’s free. And it’s Ikea!! You know you want it.

If Ikea is a store for the space conscious and thrifty, then the Pottery Barn is its polar opposite.

I’m a man of modest means, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize comfort when I find it, and I always find it at that provider of cozy furniture for the well heeled; Pottery Barn. Whenever I’m in a mall that has a store, I stop in and take a seat in one of their overstuffed sofas and relax a while, maybe read through a few emails on my phone, or perhaps call my sister. The sofas they have are always so inviting and, usually, the sales people figure out I’m just there to chill. As long as I don’t overstay my welcome, they leave me alone. When I leave I always grab a catalog. Now my stops in The Pottery Barn can be just for sofa sitting alone because Pottery Barn has made available an absolutely stellar catalog.

Pottery Barn

Download the app and you can then choose among several of their available sales, seasonal, and yearly catalogs to download. You should be mindful that each catalog takes up space, so unless you want your iPhone or iPad to become a library of catalogs, download only what you intend to browse through. The app lets you manage your onboard library easily enough.

Pottery Barn

Inside you’ll swipe through page after page of images that are somehow more gorgeous than any you’ll find in the paper version. These are hi-res photos so a double-tap zooms you in for closer examination. A single tap brings up the index along the bottom of the screen and a toolbar across the top. Another tap and all of that disappears and you can enjoy the photos unencumbered.

Throughout all of the catalogs you’ll find links to videos featuring tips on decorating, how to throw parties and gatherings, and lots more. All of them feature items from Pottery Barn, and after watching you’ll have a sudden desire to decorate and you’ll feel an odd, but persistent burning in your wallet pocket.

The Pottery Barn catalog is how I believe a catalog should be. They took the best things about the catalog’s paper counterpart and added features no pile of dead trees could ever pull off. All other catalog providers should see how Pottery Barn does it, then do it themselves. Get this catalog!

Ok, that a wrap for this week.

Wait! Remember all that nice stuff I said about Ikea’s catalog? Well, that only apples the the Ikea for iPad app. The Ikea Catalogue app is a different story.

Ikea Catalogue app, which is universal, has a user interface so pedestrian that it makes the whole experience seem dollar store cheap compared to the Ikea for iPad app.

Ikea

Gone are the up-swipe close-ups with info about items in the page you’re viewing. It’s been replace with a very ugly toolbar across the bottom of the screen. The picture size has been reduced as well. You can tap to get rid of the toolbar and swipe through the catalog, double-tap for close-ups, and there are hotspots throughout that let you read more about certain items.

It’s utilitarian and not nearly as fun as the iPad only version. It’s still free, however, so…

More catalog oriented apps below with direct links.

 

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