HowStuffWorks was originally established as a website in 1998 by former college professor Marshall Brain. Beginning with a focus on technical topics such as science and engineering, the website eventually expanded and broadened its horizons to encompass other areas such as health, history, and politics, becoming a powerhouse of ‘edutainment’ in the process.
Here the HowStuffWorks team follow up on their popular iPhone app to venture once again into iOS and offer a version optimised for the iPad. Read on after the break to see how well the HowStuffWorks experience translates to Apple’s tablet.
HowStuffWorks successfully distills the complex into an easy narrative.
If, like me, you’re something of a life-learner and enjoy geeking up on Wikipedia articles for hours, this HowStuffWorks iPad app will likely appeal. Available for free download and featuring a wealth of online content to be poured over, the app acts as a portal to the corresponding website content but far exceeds the website in usability and the presentation of information – provided one has a solid internet connection.
The articles are presented in a clear and well-defined form, with lots of pictures, videos and illustrations to help explain whatever the article in question is dealing with, ranging from History, Health and even several Buyer’s Guides on a whole host of subjects. In addition, there are welcome options to add an article to Read It Later, Instapaper, Facebook, Twitter or to open in Safari.
The app loaded pages very quickly and one cannot fault any aspect of its design, though it would be a very welcome added feature if the HowStuffWorks team were to add a proper offline reading mode in the future, in order to enable its use where there is no internet present.
HowStuffWorks Knows Its Stuff
Articles cover a host of topics from an explanation of Communism to a Laptop Buyer's Guide.
Having been previously unfamiliar with the HowStuffWorks franchise, I was initially somewhat skeptical as to whether it could compete in a post-Wikipedia world, but rather than simply state information drily as its counterpart attempts to do, the app instead genuinely attempts to make education entertaining, furnishing the reader with context and opinions contained within some very well written articles. On reflection, I think that there’s a place for both approaches.
Perhaps a good yardstick to measure the app’s worth is that its content never feels like a rehashed version of something briefly researched online by a harried online journalist with no experience on the subject matter, but it rather lends the impression that each writer knows exactly what they are talking about.
I particularly appreciated the fact that the writers were willing to stick their necks out enough to furnish an opinion, which makes the entire experience far more worthwhile. Even if one disagrees with the opinion in question at times.
Links & Media
As is the case with Wikipedia and those old-school encyclopaedias made out of paper which we used to have to make do with pre-internet, opening HowStuffWorks for a quick reference can easily lead to hours spent learning. For example, when reading the suggested (and very topical) ‘How Dictators Work’ article, there was an impressive level of detail and history on the subject stretching all the way back to the Romans and their use of the office of Dictatorship in ancient times, giving the reader an important sense of the history behind such a title.
Upon reading further, there were a great many links which led to concise explanations of Marxism, Fascism and other such related areas of political interest. Perhaps the only criticism of the content offered could be that though it is of a very high quality, it’s also often decidedly pro-Western in outlook. Still, this is but a minor point and does not detract from the overall high worth of the material.
If like me your culinary skills result in a cake which more closely resembles cement, HowStuffWorks has you covered.
The links and photos are also complemented by videos which are very informative and lend a rich learning experience.
There are also fun quizzes to test your knowledge with and a series of audio podcasts which can be listened to while browsing the content within the app.
Approaching HowStuffWorks as somebody who is completely unfamiliar with the website and TV show of the same name, I was struck by both the depth of the content and the very high quality of writing on offer, both combining to result in an app which should both entertain and educate for many hours. Indeed, with over 40,000 articles, 12,000 videos, and a thousand interactive quizzes to get stuck into, HowStuffWorks should prove to have real staying power – that it is offered for free is just the icing on the cake.
One small note of caution however, some of the articles within HowStuffWorks seem of an adult theme and are easily stumbled upon without going looking for anything of that nature. Though I am not a parent myself, I feel quite sure that many parents of nine year olds would balk at the thought of their child reading some of the material, despite the app’s 9+ rating.