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App Review: Timeline World War 2

An encyclopaedic app on the entire history of the Second World War, narrated by Dan Snow, impresses.

Screenshot from Timeline WW2As a publicity move to promote a new product it was a remarkably shrewd gamble. Earlier this month Dan Snow, writing in the Telegraph, argued that apps were better than books:

Apps on a tablet device quite simply give you all the combined benefits of books, television, the web and radio, with few of the disadvantages.

His remarks caused a stir, with many people defending the humble books, while others argued that the two weren't necessarily comparable.

Snow's "Damascene conversion" came about during the development of Timeline WW2, an app that he presents and narrates, which is out now on iPad. We've had a play with it to see if his point stands up to scrutiny.

The first thing to note is the sheer depth and range of this app. In attempting to convey the entirety of the war through a timeline spliced with key dates, facts, photos, bits of film clip, the app is immediately much more accessible than a book on the subject would be. The main display shows a layered timeline of the war, which can be filtered by particular topics, such as battle, location, people or theatres of war. The timeline can also be viewed as a map, which is ideal for demonstrating how the war spread. It's easy to see this being of great benefit for educators, while the lay person with an interest in history will lose hours exploring little known aspects of the war. In short: the app is a perfect demonstration of what a table device does particularly well, namely, encyclopaedic, cross-media presentation. The videos (over 100) are mainly composed of newsreel footage, and in a nice touch, many of them can be heard with both the original commentary and a modern narration by Dan.

Where the app perhaps does stumble is in its analysis of the events it describes. In attempting to offer the kind of overview that you might find in a particularly well-curated museum exhibition, it misses out from the sort of lengthy contextual analysis that a book on the subject would be able to provide.

The app's size may also put some off: at 750MB it'll fill a sizeable chunk of your device's hard drive, which may be unpalatable for anyone but the most hardcore WW2 history fiend.

These small points aside, Timeline WW2 is one of the most impressive history apps we've seen yet, and has set the bar very high.

Timeline WW2 is available for the iPad, priced £5.99. Get it from the App Store.

Previous app reviews:

Timeline Eons

Maps of the World

Streetmuseum: Londinium

Seen a history app you think we should review? Let us know in the comments.