Developer: Mondadori.it.
Price: $9.99
Version: 1.1
App Reviewed on: iPad 2

iPad Integration Rating: ★★★★★
User Interface Rating: ★★★★★
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Virtual History – Firenze is an interactive book that transports a reader back in time. Using cutting-edge technology, Italian publishing giant Mondadori covers the Florentine Renaissance and all that led up to it with astonishing breadth and scope.

Florence was at the epicentre of the Renaissance. Everyone from Dante to Da Vinci, Galileo to Machiavelli walked its narrow streets. And with the Medici family at the helm, many of the greatest contributions to the reawakening of classical art and scientific inquiry can be traced to that fabled city. This app tells and shows the tale.

The text itself, a lucid translation from the original Italian, is informative without being pedantic and served in small helpings. Still, the authors cover everything from the origins of the city to the present day. But the focus is on the 14th and 15th centuries. The text, even the beautiful HD photography, however, take a back seat. The features – particularly a proprietary technology called a “Bubble Viewer” – steal the show.

This viewer allows a user to enter into a 3D panoramic scene, photographic or digital, and see it very much like they would in real life. By lifting the iPad and rotating it up to 360 degrees in any direction a user can look up, down and all around. I’ve seen this feature used in Mondadori apps before, but it’s still a jaw-dropper.

As with the previous Virtual History apps, a lot of attention is paid to art. Not just to important works, but to technique and conventions. The “PaintZoomer” feature is also a knockout – a work is divided into its component parts, which the app brings to the foreground. When discussing Botticelli’s Venus, for example, the user can of course zero in on the goddess, but also isolate the floating flowers, or have the canvas emptied of anything but the background.

Other interactive features include progressive timelines, overlays, photo galleries and wonderful 3D renderings of buildings that can be rotated and studied from any angle.

What has always struck me about the Virtual History series, which I have called game-changing and bar-raising many times, is the way these apps blend the information with the tech. Even if the subject matter doesn’t appeal, the app is worth its price just to see how far digitalization can go, without sacrificing content. The images and information provided within the features are so compelling, it’s hard not to go back to the accompanying text page hoping to learn more.

Virtual History – Firenze is the third step on Mondadori’s journey to revolutionize interactive learning. Their apps are not just incredible journeys into the past, but glimpses into the future of digital publishing.


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