Touch Press, the iPad, and the New Golden Age of Multimedia
But that was before the iPad.
There’s something about Apple’s tablet—presciently described by New York Times tech columnist David Pogue back in January 2010 as “a 1.5-pound sack of potential”—that has reawakened developers to the power of multimedia software as a tool for education and entertainment. Today it’s looking as if my elegy was premature. There’s a new crop of publishers putting out great iPad apps in the casual learning category, with names like Moonbot Studios, Vook, Inkling, Push Pop Press (scooped up last fall by Facebook), and my current favorite, Touch Press.
If you own an iPad you’ve probably heard about Touch Press’s blockbuster title The Elements. This brilliant interactive tour of the periodic table has been downloaded more than 280,000 times, which is pretty amazing considering the app’s subject matter, with its heavy whiff of high-school chemistry, and its relatively steep price ($13.99). But Touch Press has eight other lesser-known titles that are just as worthwhile—including one released just last week called Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy. I’m such a Leonardo freak that my Xconomy colleagues made me promise some time ago to keep the da Vinci references in my articles to a minimum. But the new Touch Press app, released in conjunction with an exhibition of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings in Britain, gives me a great excuse to break that promise this week.
It’s good to be the queen. Thanks to her acquisitive predecessor Charles II (1630-1685), Elizabeth II is the proud owner of more than 600 Leonardo drawings and manuscripts, about half of them documenting the proto-scientist’s exploration of human and animal anatomy. This summer, hundreds of those drawings have been removed from their cases at Windsor Castle and are on display at Buckingham Palace as part of an exhibition called Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist. The show runs through October 7, if your plans happen to take you to London.
If they don’t, the Touch Press app is an excellent substitute. It’s mainly an interactive book, explaining in 11 chronological chapters how Leonardo got started as an anatomical investigator and how, over time, his dissections and drawings allowed him to push past many (but not all) classical misconceptions about how the human body works. Much of the text is standard exhibit-catalog fare, but in the Touch Press version each chapter is augmented with expert video interviews and Touch Press’s signature 3-D, rotating models. Comparing the drawings to the models demonstrates the uncanny accuracy of Leonardo’s eye, centuries before anatomists developed conveniences like autopsy rooms, embalming fixatives, and scanners.
In addition to the interpretive material, the app includes a digital archive of 268 drawings from the Royal Collection, reproduced in extremely high resolution. On the 3.1-megapixel screen of the third-generation iPad, the art is stunning. Martin Clayton, the senior curator of prints and drawings at the Royal Collection and the organizer of the exhibition, claims in this video that the details are “easier to see in the app than in the original drawings themselves.” I can buy that, given that the journals Leonardo used often had pages smaller than the iPad’s screen. (The page with the sectioned skulls, shown here, measures only 18.8 by 13.4 centimeters. The iPad’s screen is 19.8 by 14.8 centimeters. Which begs the interesting question: what might Leonardo have accomplished if he’d had an iPad?)
As an added bonus, the Touch Press app can be toggled to show English translations of Leonardo’s mirror-script notes. That may be an homage to a 1996 Corbis production called Leonardo da Vinci, which had a similar feature called the “Codescope.” In my estimation, the Corbis title—which included a reproduction and translation of the Leicester Codex, a Leonardo notebook owned by Bill Gates—represented the apex of the whole CD-ROM movement. It’s great to see … Next Page »