Beautiful, Free, Informative: Smithsonian Channel App for iPad

There are apps and then there are apps. The first group covers a lot of territory and includes everything from crap-apps to those you’d gladly lay down real money for.

The second group, however, is a much smaller, far more exclusive group containing apps that are not only functional, but are functional in such a way as to make using them a very enjoyable experience. The New York Public Library’s Biblion: New York World’s Fair is one such app. It’s user interface seems quirky at first, but it begs to be touched. When you do that’s when the magic happens. The app is even more amazing because it’s free.


Another app in this exclusive group is Discover - Wikipedia in a Magazine, from CoolIris. The app takes Wikipedia entries and turns them into e-zines. Think ‘Word of the Day’ except here you have full articles, photos, maps and so much more. It really is a good app and the more you use it, the more you’ll enjoy using it.


When I run across apps like these I devote a full Free on iTunes article to it. This article is focused on a new find, one that does its sponsor justice and the elite group it’s in proud. The app is Smithsonian Channel for iPad.

There app is beautiful. There really is no other way to put it.


From the opening screen to the search menus, every bit of this app screams of well thought out and executed design. Even as the app loads content it engages you, and everything is intuitive. Circles with moving dots let you know its busy retrieving content. Once it’s loaded you are presented with a choice of three ways to enjoy the app, Watch Our Video, Find a Show, Create a Channel.


The video area offer segments and excerpts as well as full episodes of popular shows, many in HD. You can leisurely scroll through each of the three bands showing featured videos or full episodes. Or you can browse the Most Popular band.


If you go back to the main menu (by tapping the Smithsonian icon on the lower right corner of the screen) you can choose Find a Show if you have something in particular in mind. In this section show advert graphics, along with a brief synopsis, roll into view as if they are on a virtual ferris wheel. Tap one that interests you and information and clips related to the show appear instantly. Genres are listed across the top of the screen. If there’s a full episode available you can open it as well.


The real jewel in gem encrusted crown is the Create a Channel feature. Its game-like interface lets you drag any topic that interests you from a huge list on the right of the screen into a circle. The words turn into bubbles which eventually display pictures of shows and videos related to the topic you’ve selected. Drag an interesting bubble to one of the seven bubbles in the inner circle and you’ve create a channel. Press play and the videos from your channel starts playing. It’s very cool.


The only down side to this app is that it requires an Internet connection to work, and WiFi is recommended. While I understand the need for WiFi ( HD content can take a while to download over 3G) it would be nice it if I could grab a show to watch while in flight.

But compare to everything this app has, the aforementioned down side is a nit. A minor inconvenience. Parva afflictio. A niggling of the tiniest kind.

Smithsonian Channel for iPad is a stellar which looks great on current iPads, but should be jaw-droppingly gorgeous on an iPad 3. Best of all, the app is free!

This is one app no self respecting iPad should be without.

That’s a wrap for this week. More free TV related stuff below with direct links.