Atlas by Collins (iOS) is Beautiful but Flawed

| Quick Look Review

Atlas by Collins, released October 18, is a world atlas for iOS. It has satellite, physical and political maps as well as plentiful information on population, communications and energy. You can zoom into any part of the globe to obtain detailed information about a region. Unfortunately, there are many technical flaws.

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As with the popular weather maps of the planet Earth, this atlas starts with the Earth spinning in space. You can swipe to rotate the globe and pinch to zoom on any desired area. Once you’ve selected an area of interest, you can tap the info button to get more details. A lot of the information presented, in a world atlas-like mode is awesomely beautiful, and there is a wealth of detail about our pale blue dot called Earth.

The YouTube video for the app is an impressive introduction to the flavor of this app.

The app has been released with with seven major globes potentially available. Only the satellite view is installed in the initial download.

  • Satellite
  • Physical
  • Political
  • Environmental
  • Population
  • Communications
  • Energy

For example, if you wanted to find out more about the Rocky Mountains, you would select the Physical globe, navigate to the rockies, and swipe to the “World’s Mountains” tab at the bottom. There, you’d see this information and photo.

If you wanted to explore the fertility and birth rates of a region, you’d see something like this:

Suffice it to say that this is a major effort, packed into a US$9.99 app (introductory price). You could spend weeks exploring our world on those seven globes, and it’s a valuable resource for students. It’s also beautiful in its concept and just plain fun to use.

Problems

In the course of reviewing this app, I ran across several major issues that detract from its status as a first class, first attempt.

1. All the conversions from square kilometers to square miles that I checked are wrong. It looks like the developer divided by 1.609 instead of 1.609 squared to make the conversion. For example, the actual area of the U.S. is 3.79 million square miles.

Conversion to square miles is wrong.

2. The nomenclature can be confusing. For example, in this screen shot, the default header, “Falkland Islands is a country in South America,” is a superfluous, misleading statement. Further down, we get the right information, it’s a territory of the United Kingdom.

Misleading nomenclature about country status

3. The the political map of Great Britain, the boundary of Wales and Scotland is no where to be found. The United Kingdom, which is a country of countries, is shown as one country. If one wanted to see, for example, the boundary of Wales, it’s not visible on the political map.

Where is Wales?

4. Mashing of text. In this page of mountain heights, we have a mashing together of text and numbers. It’s not technically appealing.

Hard to read data for mountain height in feet

Other problems that I noticed include the fact that there’s only one buit-in, default map, the satellite globe. The rest must be downloaded, and if you suspend the app, the download is also suspended and must be started all over. With a fast Internet connection, it still took five minutes to download each major map, and the app is not usable for anything else during that time. Next, the app did crash on me frequently. Finally, in many instances when I wanted information about a region (satellite view), the map shifted instead, losing track of my region of interest.

System Requirements

Atlas by Collins requires an iPad 2 or later, an iPhone 4 or later or an iPod touch, 5th generation or later. iOS 5 or later is required.

Do I Recommend it?

This app is a great first attempt by HarperCollins Publishers. However, the inattention to some of the technical detail makes for a flawed first attempt and makes me worry about the authoritativeness of some of the other data. For that reason, it must receive a disappointing rating.

For most customers, I would recommend waiting until the next version when the problems mentioned here can be fixed. I also recommend that there be a technical review of the app while the special launch price be maintained by HarperCollins until the issues I mentioned can be addressed.

Product: Atlas by Collins

Company: HarperCollins Publishers

List Price: US$9.99 (Introductory, promotional)

Pros:

Beautiful in concept, easy to access information, seven major atlases, detailed information about the Earth and its people.

Cons:

Crashes frquently, has factual errors in square miles calculations, additional globes take a long time to download, minor, misleading nomenclature headings.

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