iPad Book Review: The Atlas by Collins Review
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
Reviewed by Guy Dayen
The Atlas by Collins is the latest attempt at bringing an atlas to the iPad, and by and large, it is a very successful one. The conceit here is that the information is presented thematically, using a series of three-dimensional globes to portrait relevant data. The graphics are crisp and incredibly detailed. In fact, my only quibble with the graphic aspect of The Atlas is that the satellite views are not up to retina quality when zoomed in, but I hope that this will be refined in further updates of the book.
So far, there are three main sections in The Atlas, with the promise of more to come in the future. The most common data, the kind found in most paper atlases, is contained in the section entitled: "Atlas Essentials". Here can be found physical maps, political maps and a satellite view of the earth. The maps are searchable, and over 200,000 place names are included in the database. The physical maps show the typical stuff: oceans, lakes, rivers, mountains, etc. An interesting way to organize the data is to classify bodies of water, mountains, cities, and other features by size, making it easy to compare different landmarks that might be of particular interest to the reader. For students in geography or earth sciences, this can be a gold mine of easily available information.
The second section is called "People and Power". This part of The Atlas focuses on energy, population and communications. You can find out, for example, where different types of energy are produced, see which parts of the world are most or least densely populated, examine life expectancy data, discover the biggest cities on Earth, or find out where mobile phones and Internet access are most prevalent (not necessarily where you might think).
The last section, at the moment, is "Living Earth". Those readers concerned about the environment can track how this is changing through time, and where the most urgent threats to the planet are located. Deforestation, growing deserts, melting ice caps, it can all be found here, in very plain detail.
On every globe, the reader can spin the Earth and find the exact spot he or she is interested in. In most cases, when you click on a spot, the globe key will give the relevant information on a pop-up tab. There were a few instances where the tab didn't pop up automatically, and I had to refer to the key manually, but in most cases, the process worked flawlessly. Again, I hope this little flaw will be fixed soon, as the bugs are ironed out of the app.
The organization of data is perhaps the most salient feature of The Atlas. We get numbers thrown at us constantly in the media, and it is often difficult to make sense of it all. Being able to visualize the data on a 3D globe is most helpful in understanding the world around us. The fact that The Atlas is an electronic book means that this data can be updated as new facts are developed. In fact, I'm downloading an update to the Environment section as I'm writing this review. The unfortunate thing about paper atlases is that they are always out of date sooner or later, especially when it comes to political considerations. Having an atlas that can grow and change as time goes by is a great solution for those who want to keep up with a changing world.
I did find some spelling and grammatical errors in The Atlas, and a few sentences that didn't make much sense. But this is an editorial problem, not one which affects the app's performance. I've looked at the Collins support site, and they are already working on updating and correcting the errors that might have been made in the initial release. HarperCollins is a very reputable company, and I have full confidence that the book will only get better in subsequent updates. There is also talk of adding more globes to the book, as more themes are developed. It would be great if these were included as free updates, but as much as I don't like IAPs (in-app purchases), they wouldn't bother me too much in this instance, since the app is fully functioning without having to buy more globes, and you would only buy more data if it was something of particular interest.
All in all, I'm very impressed with The Atlas. Anyone who is a geography buff, or who is simply curious about our world, will find a wealth of information here. Sure, you could find it elsewhere if you search around, but the way the data is presented makes it really enjoyable and convenient to use and to discover the information the reader might seek. Geography, earth science or political science students in middle school, high school or college will find The Atlas a truly useful tool to add to their arsenal. It's graphically impressive, and it is very well organized. Speaking personally, I had fun going through the different parts of the app and finding out all kinds of things about our world that I didn't know before. This is a book that you can return to again and again, and be able to ferret out interesting facts every time. By the way, it this makes it a great app for trivia buffs. There are all kinds of neat factoids to spring on your friends and colleagues. This is the atlas that I will be keeping on my iPad from now on.
Developer: Collins Publishers
Release Date: October 15, 2012
Buy App: Atlas by Collins
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