HowStuffWorks: A Wild and Wonderful Cornucopia of Explanations
HowStuffWorks for iPad is a seemingly endless supply of information and explanation about anything from movie stunts to quantum physics. It surrounds you with information in a variety of media forms, and it just makes you want to learn more and more, bit by bit, about everything. It seems more like an entertainment app than a practical how-to guide, but it sure is addictive.
There is a HowStuffWorks app for iPhone, but I went for the iPad version -- bigger, better, easier to navigate and consume, especially when I want to kick back and learn about how things work. I was expecting a nitty-gritty experience of things like how combustion engines work, or how a potato-launching spud gun manages to blast a tuber 100 yards. Well, I got what I was expecting, but so much more.
What's the more? More information about less-mechanical things, like how lying works, how makeup works, the top five most poisonous plants, and communicating with animals. HowStuffWorks is like a giant cornucopia spilled out over your desk, the floor, and when you want more, you just tap away on your iPad to dislodge a few new explanations, like signals from black holes or how to fix a small drywall hole.
This seemingly endless supply of explanations is served up through more than 40,000 articles and 12,000 video clips. Some clips come from high-profile sources, like Bear Grylls from the TV show "Man vs. Wild." While you don't get the entire show, you can see how Grylls roasts a snake in a survival situation. Just an example. I also watched the dudes from "Mythbusters" try to jump a speedboat like James Bond.
A Feast of Information
All these articles and videos seem almost overwhelming at first glance, but then you tap one, and boom, you learn something new. And all this learning-something-new in small little nuggets might lead to an addiction of sorts -- with every tap, you give your brain a bit of something new to chew on, like stuff you missed from history class. It's like learning without a reason.
Of course, you can search, and when you search for combustion engines, for example, you'll get a lots of different options to learn about engines, including everything from two-stroke engines to jet turbines.
In addition to the articles and videos, there are more than 1,000 quizzes containing more than 30,000 questions. I tried a few quizzes, and while functionally they work well and have some interesting questions, I'm not really a quiz kind of guy, and I'm not interested in earning badges of any sort. While the quizzes are sprinkled throughout the HowStuffWorks experience, you can choose to filter out media types. If you don't want quizzes, you can hide them. Same theory works if you just want to see video options.
And about the videos: They are all AirPlay-enabled, so you can watch them on your Apple TV-connected HDTV, too.
Along with videos and articles, there's an entire section of podcasts. At first, listening to a podcast on my iPad seemed odd, but only because I've never bothered to before -- I've always consumed podcasts through my iPhone or iPods. Still, good old audio explanations and topic discussion -- not bad, not bad at all.
The app also sports all the typical email and social media sharing tools, along with a really handy "star" button for creating a list of favorites you can refer back to easily. Some of this stuff, especially the quantum physics and explanations for our universe(s), need a little mind-bending and massaging to get -- or even just sort of get. Like quantum suicide. I'm still mulling that little theory over.
So far, I've found the built-in ads that make the app free for consumers to be both easily noticed and ignored. The iPad form factor lets the app deliver a banner ad, for example, at the bottom. It sits there permanently, it seems, while you scroll through the content. Tap it, and you'll get a quickly loading full-screen ad experience that you can also easily leave to return to the content. Nice, actually.
The first time I got served up a video commercial, though, I was confused. I was looking to learn how to find a stream in Costa Rica, again, with Bear Grylls, when an ad for a Toyota loaded into the video window first. I thought I had miss-tapped until I realized what was going on. The price of free, you know.
All-in-all, I see HowStuffWorks for iPad more as an entertainment app than an answer finder, though I do believe that I might start considering it for answers to life's vexing questions as using the app becomes more embedded in my frontal lobes.