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Virtual History – Rome (formerly Rome – A Virtual History) The Future of Interactive Text and E-Books

  • By: Arnoldo Mondadori / Mondadori Digital
  • Version: 1.1
  • Platform: iPad Only
  • Release Date: 1/20/11
  • Recommended Age: all ages (great for little learners!)
  • Rating: SAHGeekMom and Pump give this an unabashed 5 stars!
  • Note: In tnon-US App Stores it is called: Virtual History – Roma and the description is in Italian. But don’t worry the book is in English in English App Stores, (at least the Canadian one) and is indistinguishable from its US  counterpart.

3/19/11 UPDATE: An updated Version 1.1 was released March 15 and according to Mondadori, you now get additions to visual and text content and user interface refinements. The Bubble Viewer is improved and they actually added more content! I wish I could give a 6th star!

5/23/11 UPDATE 2: Attention fans of Virtual History -Rome. Mondadori has finally offered up a new book, Virtual History – The Last Supper (in non US App Stores serach Virtual History – Ultima Cena) It launched late last week and my review and a chance to win a copy are now live. Click here to read the review and enter the contest.

For now know it’s as good or better than the original. It focuses on the single masterwork, but with tremedous breadth and perspective, and all the features we love about Rome like the Bubble Viewer and the other interactive goodies have been refined. The end result is not to be believed.  More tomorrow, but don’t wait, buy your copy now, it’s worth every one of the 10 dollars and more.

Original Review:

Last night I stumbled on an interactive book, ROME: A Virtual History, (edit: name changed to Virtual History – Roma) in the freshly updated New and Noteworthy Section of the App Store and I had to have it. But it was 9.99! What to do?

Well I looked for reviews, but there were few; it’s pretty new, (launched 1/20/11) and I imagine some Classics and History afficionados have been put off by the relatively steep price.

But I did find a promotional video (see below) which left me slack-jawed, and the reviews I did see were raves. After all the craziness of the past week I decided I deserved a treat, so I went for it. Wow! That was $10 well spent! Check out this video:

When I think about what a book with this scope, this much information, that is even 1/4 as graphics-rich as this would cost at my local bookstore, suddenly $9.99 seems like a bargain.

This is the future of interactive books.

Rome: A Virtual History raises the bar and points the way to the future of both text and e-books.

If you are a fan of anything Roman from the Gladiators to the Ceasars; history to architecture, Citizen’s lives to art and mythology you will appreciate this app/ebook.

It covers the entire breadth of Ancient Roman History from pre-Roman Italy through the Fall of the Empire, with a novel twist at the end: an unbiased look at the ‘Barbarians’ that finally brought Rome to her knees.

The author doesn’t abandon us there either. He takes us into later European history and even the future noting Rome’s influence on the Renaissance and on contemporary and post-modern art and architecture.

The writing is actually quite good. It reads like a native English speaker did the translation from the Italian. It’s fluent, informative, and colloquial all of which make this book for the iPad engaging in a way unrivalled by any other I have seen to date.

It’s not going to replace your textbooks yet, the content is good, but there is not enough academic detail for it to serve as a stand-alone teaching tool, but it wasn’t meant to.

As a companion to study, however, or as a means to enrich your own understanding of what life was really like for the forefathers of Western Civilization, it is exceptional and unique.

This format and the proprietary technologies could easily be adapted to textbooks (where publisher Mondadori seems it be heading,) and books with denser copy. I suspect in a classroom not many years away we will be seeing a lot of this sort of thing.

But for now it’s like peeking into the future. And from within it’s ‘pages,’ that future looks exhilarating and fresh.

Even if you are not into the Ancient World, merely a fellow-geek who wants to see what new tech-tricks are out there in the e-book world, this is a must-download app.

The images, be they photos, famous art works or digital renderings are spectacularly sharp and clean on the iPad. And the host of interactive features and what they add to the book (as opposed to being gratuitous as is so often the case when too much emphasis is put on the virtual and too little on the text) that you simply have to see it to believe that this is not hyperbole.

Depending on where you are in the book you can see animated time-lines, manipulate 3-d figures or structures, browse art galleries, get 360 views from above, or you can even enter into a 3-d picture of, say Pompeii in it’s prime, with the patented Bubble Viewer. Steer with your iPad to take a tour.

Pump (my 7-year old son and co-reviewer, see About Me or  10 Reasons #3) was absorbed and engaged instantly. He knows enough about Rome from children’s pop culture and from school to recognize the Colosseum and the Parthenon on sight, but was enthralled by how close he could get to both the modern remains, and the structures in their heyday.

He knows about the Legions and the Gladiators too and loved moving them around to study their armour and weapons. He was as instantly charmed as I was by the immersive and completely individualized encounter he had with the book.

The educational, informational and technological value of this app can not be over-stated. I hope to see more like it soon and will happily vote with my few dollars to help ensure its success.

It is more than possible that other books of this sort exist, but I hunt pretty hard and have yet to stumble on anything quite like it before for the iPad anyway. This is the first of this sort interactivity I have seen in a book in the App Store geared towards the Liberal Arts and Humanities.

I have seen great kinaesthetic user interfaces before especially in some made-for-iPad Magazines, but the content and writing is somewhat lacking. It often seems like an afterthought to showcase the technology, rather than an attempt to use technology to illustrate a point or to augment comprehension and reader-engagement.

There are a couple things I would like to see added or changed in future updates. (This is only version 1.0 and it is so polished, I have no doubt great updates are to come.)

Sometimes the images are so spectacular that I want to be able to hide the text-boxes and really zoom in. I would love to see a gesture or tap command to toggle between an image viewer and the page itself.

Also the Bubble Viewer Feature, those images (see video above) you can steer your way around in 3-d by moving the iPad, is a bit clunky. I had to turn my body 1/2 way around to see everything, and it’s impossible to see much if you are reading from a top-down view. Recent updates have made the Bubble Viewer much better and if you use it in the new book from Mondadori, Virtual History – The Last Supper it, you can see they have perfected the technology.

But I’m glad I bothered to get up and experiment, it was well worth the minimal effort to discover more astonishing details around every virtual bend.

Rome: A Virtual History is also an amazing Coffee-table book to show off your iPad.

The pictures speak better for themselves than I ever could, so enjoy the slideshow and then drop the $9.99, if for no other reason than to encourage more of this sort of educational and entertaining fare be served to us in the future.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

OK, I hope you downloaded it and enjoy it this weekend, the SAHGeekMom has to jet.

In the meantime here are some of my other recent reviews of apps [updated 3/19/11] and games that are climbing the charts and making learning (and art!) fun – look for excusive previews, contests, giveaways, and so more much!


Comments on: "Virtual History – Roma: The Classroom Of The Future Previewing Now On iPad" (7)

  1. […] See Lisa’s full review on her Stay at Home GeekMom blog here […]

  2. […] first of a series of interactive books for iPad from Italian publishing giant Mondadori, Roma (full review here) is simply astonishing. I picked this title only because it may have a more broad-base appeal than […]

  3. Elaine Turchyn said:

    I may just get this one, steep price but look so interesting!!

  4. Exceptional! I’m so glad you clued me into this amazing product!

  5. Looks amazing, I’ll check it out.

  6. Wow wow wow! This will be the first app I download when I get my iPad! Absolutely spectacular. Thanks!

  7. Ok this book looks amazing! you’ve sold me on it!!

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