Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Dinosaurs: American Museum of Natural History Collections (for iPhone)
When the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) announced its Dinosaurs: American Museum of Natural History Collections free app for the iPhone, I wasted no time in downloading it, having spent many pleasant hours over the years in the museum's dinosaur halls looking at the magnificent fossil collection. I think it's a worthy addition to the iPhone of any dinosaur fan.
On opening the app, you encounter a photo of the museum's Tyrannosaurus rex head. Clicking on it takes you to a stunning color photo mosaic of a T. rex head that's composed of more than 800 images from the Museum's archive. Double-tapping or stretching the mosaic will let you zoom in on individual images, which include photos of the fossils both on exhibit and in their collection; drawings; dioramas; photos of dinosaur digs showing the terrain, paleontologists, and fossils in the ground; photos and correspondence from the museum's famous paleontologists (such as the letter by Barnum Brown announcing the discovery of T. rex in 1902); and a world map showing how the continents looked in the late Cretaceous.
You can either zoom in on images from the mosaic, or once you're in an image, go to adjacent ones by flicking either left, right, up, or down. It would be nice if there were a search function, so you could locate images of particular dinosaurs.
Features and Interface
In the upper right hand corner of each image is an Info button. Clicking on it reveals a title and caption for the image, as well as the photographer's name. You can also add a comment. But there are multiple copies of at least some of the images within the mosaic, for instance, the feathered velociraptor and the raptor claw. I'd uploaded a comment for the feathered raptor image, and when I checked back later my comment hadn't been posted, but someone else's had. Now when I look, I find at least three copies of the same raptor image, none of which have any comments. Did I miss the one with the comment? Or had it been deleted? I couldn't tell.
You can e-mail an image to a friend (or to yourself). Unfortunately, the top center of the image is watermarked with an ad: "Dinosaurs—Now Available on the iTunes App Store."
Tapping the bottom of the screen brings up a menu with three options: Mosaic, Stories, and About. The Mosaic button takes you back to the full T. rex mosaic. Stories takes you to a menu listing the names of individual dinosaurs. There are currently only six stories: T. rex, Velociraptor, and four relatively obscure dinosaurs. (The skeleton of one of them, Barosaurus, is prominently displayed in the museum entrance's lobby, though I doubt many people know it by name.) The stories provide more in-depth info about the creature and are augmented by additional photographs, drawings, and maps. The AMNH has promised additional stories to augment the sparse selection.
I could see them adding additional stories not tied to particular species; an example might be the difference between Saurischian (lizard-hipped) and Ornithischian (bird-hipped) dinosaurs, seeing that the AMNH's two main dinosaur halls are segregated into these two groups. The AMNH also plans to add additional images and info to the mosaic. The About button gives you instructions and detail about the app.
This free app should appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in dinosaurs. It's worth downloading just for the cool mosaic itself. I hope it serves as inspiration for other museums' apps.