Dinosaurs Roar to Life on the iPad with Stephen Fry

| In-Depth Review

Inside the World of Dinosaurs is a massive and glorious app for the iPad. It’s far from perfect, and at the price of US$14.95 it is pricey, but M5859 Studios has done a terrific job of creating a compelling and engaging overview of 60 dinosaurs and the world in which they lived. I would consider it a showpiece app for the iPad that really takes advantage of the graphic capabilities and the potential of dynamic audio of the iPad — espcially with some good earphones.

The dinosaurs are rendered in beautiful 3D, and many objects can be horizontally rotated 360º. A great number of graphics can be stretched to full screen and horizontally rotated, though you don’t get the expected stretch animation. Instead the screen re-draws to show the enlarged graphic. Tapping on a button brings you back to where you were. 

The main Navigation screen

When you start, you are presented with a clear instruction screen. This is a great idea since there are so many ways to use the app, many of which can get confusing. Most of what you need to know can be found on this screen:

The Instruction screen

You are shown how to enable narration, which is also printed, and how to rotate and enlarge graphics. Take note of the tabs on the bottom left and right of the screen. Tapping on the right tab will take you through the entire program starting with articles and going through the 60 dinosaurs and 22 pages of dinosaur hunters. The easiest way to get acquainted with the program is to turn on narration and enable auto-page turning. This allows you to listen to Stephen Fry’s wonderful voice reading the narration written by Alicia Barnes.

While doing this you can twirl objects around on a horizontal axis only, or stretch smaller pictures to full screen and rotate many of them. But herein lies a problem. If you enlarge a graphic and don’t return it to its normal size before the narration is done, everything stops. To continue, you need to tap on an X, return the screen to its original size, re-enable narration and auto page turning, and wait until the page you just heard is re-read to continue on in your journey. 

An enlarged screen

There are two other problems in using this linear approach that I hope will be fixed in a later version. Firstly there is no way to stop, so if you want to see the whole show, you need to devote five hours of viewing time since there is no way to pause and save your place outside of leaving the program and coming back while it’s still in memory. I did find a way around it, but it’s not obvious. If you click on the index, and you’re involved in the articles you’ll see a listing of articles in the order they are presented. You can leave the app and when returning go to the index, find where you were, re-enable auto page turning and narration and continue, but there must be a better way. 

Another problem in this linear approach is that if you tap on one of the highlighted white links, you’ll be taken to the proper page, but there is no apparent way of gettiing back to where you were before you tapped. 

The Timeline

The Timeline is a different way of navigating the program and comes in quite handy once you’ve gone through the 22 articles that provide context and background. Starting at the Triassic period, which was 250 to 200 million years ago, scroll horizontally to see where each of the 60 dinosaurs falls in both period and millions of years ago. Tap on one and you’ll be brought to the animated page of that dinosaur. Navigating this way is easy. Just tap on Timeline again and you’ll find it easy to get around. 

Search by Period

Another way of getting around is by tapping on buttons for periods: Triassic, Jurassic or Cretaceous. This brings up the screen shown above with a verticle picture of each beast that lived in the chosen period. Again getting back to where you were is easy by use of the period buttons. 

Search by Article

This will take you individually through the 22 articles that start the linear tour. Each gives you background that will give the dinosaurs context. They are in the same order as the linear tour. 

Rotating and Enlarging Objects

Most everything can be rotated and enlarged to full screen size but some of the smaller graphics like the ones shown above, when enlarged and rotated are a bit blurry. They were apparently rendered in the small size as shown on the screen of six objects, so when one is blown up to full screen, the clarity of the graphic suffers. 

Dinosaur Hunters

Along with the beasts are stories about 15 famous dinosaur hunters. Tap on a picture and you’ll get the story. The attention to detail is so great that the frames housing the portraits are indicative of frames used during the lifetimes of hunters they surround. This is just one indication of how much attention to detail was put into this extensive app. The rendering of the dinosaurs, the profuse animation and the number of things that you can rotate is nearly mind boggling. Definitely demonstration quality. The app is quite large weighing in at 891 MB.

Stephen Fry’s narration is wonderful. A better choice could not have been made. He brings a sense of immediacy and excitement to sometimes dry text. And tapping on the name of any dinosaur causes Mr. Fry to pronounce the name slowly and clearly. The only problem I found with the narration is that sometimes, when not in a linear mode, the vocal track takes a second to buffer and sometimes the first few words of the narration do not get spoken, at least that is the case on my first generation iPad. Perhaps this would not happen with a quicker processor. 

I do grouse, but I really do like this app. The information is solid, the artwork is steller, the animation and interaction is wonderful and the voice of Mr. Fry is thing of beauty. 

If they just fixed the navigation problems and the flow of the program it would be perfect. I’m hoping they do just that.

Video Trailer for Inside the World of Dinosaurs

Product: Inside the World of Dinosaurs Narrated by Stephen Fry

Company: M58959 Studios

List Price: US$14.95

Pros:

Gorgeous graphics, and animation. Solid well researched facts. Wonderful narration by Stephen Fry. Great music and sound effects. The ability to manipulate and enlarge a great many graphic items. Really a thing of beauty.

Cons:

A poor navigation system. Buffering problems with the narration on a first generation iPad. Fairly pricey when compared to apps like Our Choice by Al Gore, that also presents a boatload of information in an interactive manner at a third the price.

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Comments

geoduck

Last week I saw the iPad commercial “Love” that ended with a really cool (educational?) Dinosaur App. Would you know if that was this one?

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