App Reviewed on: iPhone 5
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PBS has taken on a fantastic new initiative that allows users to explore history using just their iPhone. With their new app, American Experience: Mapping History , they have made history even more accessible to people of all ages by offering a way to use the iPhone to find local places of historical significance, specifically about the abolitionist movement. The app displays pinned photos, videos, and scanned documents, each of which is accompanied by a brief explanation. The most valuable feature, however, is the guided tour. Users can visit predefined locations of historical significance while the app explains each stop along the way.
Being the first app in what will hopefully be a series, the functionality is limited. There are only two main options to choose from at the main screen: view the map of the country to explore pins or take a walking tour of one of five cities. The map displays a significant amount of media from various locations around the United States. Tapping on a cluster of pins will bring them up on a new screen, in thumbnail view. Each photo is accompanied by a brief explanation and some additional options. A small arrow appears, showing the user how far and in what direction the historical event took place. Unfortunately, tapping on this arrow does not bring up a map with directions of how to get there. A sharing button also exists, but only posts a brief statement about the app itself, not of the interesting photo that was just discovered.
There is one additional feature that allows the user to display a faded photo on their iPhone while seeing a live view of their location. This way, one can see what a location looked like back then compared to what is seen there in present day. The user can slide their finger up and down to change the photo's opacity. As interesting as this feature is, it would be even better if the user could save the overlaid image to their camera roll, or share it via Facebook and Twitter. These critical social features are completely lacking from this app.
The walking tours offer the user an organized way of seeing several historical locations in a city. Each location is numbered, so you can keep track of where you are and which locations you have left to see. However, there does not seem to be any sort of turn-by-turn directions, therefore navigation may be a bit difficult if the city is unfamiliar.
American Experience: Mapping History absolutely offers a new way to explore historical events. If interested in the abolitionist movement, then this app will surely offer some significant insight into the time period. In addition, the walking tours are probably the best way to learn about the historical locations in any city. Forget the tour bus; this app is definitely the way to go.