Digital Reading Room: Light my fire

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[As tablets get more powerful, with more memory and sharper-looking screens, their apps are getting a makeover. Increasingly, mobile apps employ multimedia—combining words, pictures, audio, and video—in new and interesting ways. In our Digital Reading Room series, we’ll look at some eye-catching multimedia apps and tell you which ones deserve a place on your mobile device.]

A legendary ’60s rock band, the game of basketball, and our nation’s capital wouldn’t seem to have much in common. But they’re all the subjects of apps that would be terrific additions to your iPad. (In another bit of commonality, these three apps are only available for Apple’s tablet.) And the timing is right for all three apps: The Doors’ official app has just made its debut, the NBA playoffs are in full swing, and Kids Discover’s Washington D.C. app is perfect for planning that upcoming summer trip. Good apps, good content, good prices. Spring is bounteous!

The Doors

The main page for Waiting For The Sun includes links to essay on the album by David Fricke, a video, ‘Tech Nuggets’ that provide details on recording equipment, and a scrapbook with photos and other images. Throughout the app an audio player enables you to listen to streaming song samples via iTunes, and to some full songs if you have them in your iTunes library.

I was prepared to be disappointed by The Doors, an iPad app from Warner Music Group. Often inexpensive apps put out by mainstream entertainers are little more than commercial samplers with the sole aim to get you to buy more stuff. The Doors app has the requisite links to iTunes and to the band’s website, but it’s also packed with quality content. The history of the Doors can be read chronologically, with periods marked by album releases and other major events.

Most of the text is by Rolling Stone magazine senior editor David Fricke, with contributions from Greil Marcus, Patti Smith, Hunter Thompson, and other notables. Much of what makes the app worth a fan’s time is that this “official” history isn’t completely airbrushed—mistakes and mediocrity are acknowledged, and some naughty bits are left in.

The app includes a half-dozen or so videos, which can be played without an Internet connection, short spoken audio clips, scores of photos and other images, and even detailed, annotated photos of recording equipment. Standard iTunes samples of each song are available, which is common in such apps. Where The Doors deserve some credit is that if you already have Doors songs in your iTunes library—including iTunes in the cloud—the app finds some of them, but not others. It’s unclear why.

Where to Get It: $5; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download.

Basketball Time Machine

Basketball Time Machine provides an entryway to hundreds of amateur, college, and pro basketball videos through the years. This 1993 video shows the North Carolina-Michigan NCAA championship game.

I rarely give a second look to apps that rely on unoriginal Web-based content for most of their material. The need for a fast, reliable Internet connection can pose problems. Also, much of the material in apps such as Basketball Time Machine includes a great deal of content that is subject to copyright and hosted on sites like YouTube; as a result, that material can disappear at a moment’s notice. Still, Basketball Time Machine is such a joy to experience that it’s worth making an exception.

The app is a video history of high school, college, pro, and amateur basketball from the 1930s to the present. Videos are divided into seven categories, including champs, superstars, great plays, and commercials. The video content is eclectic. In some areas, like college and pro basketball championships of the past 30 years, plenty of videos are available. In other categories, the material is hit-and-miss, with loads of videos for some years, only one or two for others, and none at all in other years. Also, some videos are very short—20 or 30 seconds—while others include full games.

Basketball Time Machine’s interface is simple and intuitive, and you can view videos full screen. What makes the app truly outstanding is that fans of most teams and all ages are likely to be able to relive some magic moments. For me it was the early ’70s Knicks, the great game in which Notre Dame broke UCLA’s 69-game winning streak, and the UNC Tar Heels of the ’90s. And watching Wilt Chamberlain trying to fit into a Volkswagen, circa 1967—well, even Don Draper would have to agree it’s a classic.

While Basketball Time Machine is a terrific resource for serious fans, it doesn’t take the game too seriously, as evidenced by the inclusion of this 1966 Volkswagen commercial starring Wilt Chamberlain.

Where to Get It: $1; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download.

Washington D.C. by Kids Discover

While much of Washington D.C. by Kids Discover focuses on the city’s museums, monuments, and government buildings, there’s still plenty devoted to other activities.

Kids Discover’s Washington D.C. app provides just the right information, at a level that most kids will understand and enjoy, to inspire the kind of curiosity that travel with an educational bent requires. Many of Washington, D.C.’s historical attractions, museums, and activities are at least partially aimed at the younger set, and this app highlights this without condescension.

The app’s only major drawback is that it doesn’t enable users to highlight material, bookmark sections, or plan an itinerary. On the other hand, it’s the type of app that’s suited to joint viewing—parents and children, gathered around the ol’ iPad, planning their next great vacation.

Where to Get It: Free; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download.

This story, "Digital Reading Room: Light my fire" was originally published by TechHive.

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