The best education apps for iPad
Our favorite iPad apps for learning something new – from astronomy to human history.
Brian Cox's Wonders of Life ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
Brian Cox's Wonders of Life hints at the future of consumable media. At its core, this is an educational journey into over 30 creatures and their habitats. You learn how living things on Earth are interlinked, and the way in which everything is constructed from the same fundamental building blocks.
It’s the presentation, though, that sets the app apart. The main interface comprises sets of 3D scenes you can twirl and explore. Embedded within, you’ll find over a thousand high-res images, short videos narrated by Brian Cox and engaging essays.
The result is something that borrows from magazines, books, television and apps, successfully merging them all into something new. Especially on the larger screen of the iPad, the dazzling visuals and text alike all get a chance to shine.
Solar Walk 2 - Planet Explorer ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.99)
Solar Walk 2 is a digital orrery. It offers a stylized 3D view of the solar system, and tapping on any planet or moon whisks you toward it within seconds, like you’re piloting a rocket from NASA’s dreams.
The view can be manipulated by standard iOS gestures, although this app is also really nice to just leave in a docked iPad so you can watch moons and planets orbit their parents.
When you want to science things up a bit, though, the app’s ready and willing. An interactive facts panel provides stats, graphs, and the means to crack open a planet to see what’s inside. Add some IAP and you can travel with famous space missions like Voyager 1. In all, it’s a cracking alternative to a real-world orrery – and a lot more portable and interactive, too!
Human Anatomy Atlas 2018 ($24.99/£23.99/AU$38.99)
Human Anatomy Atlas 2018 represents a leap forward for iPad education apps and digital textbooks alike. In short, it turns your iPad into an anatomy lab – and augmented reality extends this to nearby flat surfaces.
You can explore your virtual cadaver by region or system. Additionally, you can examine cross-sections, micro-anatomy (eyes; bone layers; touch receptors, and so on), and muscle actions. If you want to learn what makes you tick, it’s fascinating to spin a virtual body beneath your finger, and ‘dissect’ it by removing sections.
But the AR element is a real prize, giving you a captivating, slightly unnerving virtual body to explore. Ideal fodder for medical students, then, but great even for the simply curious. And although it’s pricey for the latter audience, the app’s often on sale, and has dropped as low as $0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49. Snap it up if you see it cheap.
There are quite a few dictionary apps on iPad, and most of them don’t tend to stray much from paper-based tomes, save adding a search function. LookUp has a more colorful way of thinking, primarily with its entry screen. This features rows of illustrated cards, each of which houses an interesting word you can discover more about with a tap.
The app is elsewhere a mite more conventional – you can type in a word to confirm a spelling, and access its meaning, etymology, and Wikipedia entry.
The app’s lack of speed and customization means it likely won’t be a writer’s first port of call when working – but it is an interesting app for anyone fascinated by language, allowing you to explore words and their histories in rather more relaxed circumstances.
Redshift Pro (($17.99/£17.99/AU$27.99)
The ‘pro’ bit in Redshift Pro’s name is rather important, because this astronomy app is very much geared at the enthusiast. It dispenses with the gimmickry seen in some competing apps, and is instead packed with a ton of features, including an explorable planetarium, an observation planner and sky diary, 3D models of the planetary bodies, simulations, and even the means to control a telescope.
Although more workmanlike than pretty, the app does the business when you’re zooming through the heavens, on a 3D journey to a body of choice, or just lazily browsing whatever you’d be staring at in the night sky if your ceiling wasn’t in the way.
And if it all feels a bit rich, the developer has you covered with the slightly cut down – but still impressive – Redshift, for half the outlay.
Sky Guide ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
There are quite a few apps for virtual stargazing, but Sky Guide is the best of them on iPad. Like its rivals, the app allows you to search the heavens in real-time, providing details of constellations and satellites in your field of view (or, if you fancy, on the other side of the world).
Also, when outside during the daytime (at which point stars are inconveniently invisible to the naked eye), you can use augmented reality to map constellations on to a blue sky.
Indoors, it transforms into a kind of reference guide, offering further insight into distant heavenly bodies, and the means to view the sky at different points in history. What sets Sky Guide apart, though, is an effortless elegance. It's simply the nicest app of its kind to use, with a polish and refinement that cements its essential nature.
Earth Primer ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
When you're told you can control the forces of nature with your fingertips that probably puts you more in mind of a game than a book. And, in a sense, Earth Primer does gamify learning about our planet. You get a series of engaging and interactive explanatory pages, and a free-for-all sandbox that cleverly only unlocks its full riches when you've read the rest of the book.
Although ultimately designed for children, it's a treat for all ages, likely to plaster a grin across the face of anyone from 9 to 90 when a volcano erupts from their fingertips.
Journeys of Invention ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
Touch Press somewhat cornered the market in amazing iOS books with The Elements, but Journeys of Invention takes things a step further. In partnership with the Science Museum, it leads you through many of science's greatest discoveries, weaving them into a compelling mesh of stories.
Many objects can be explored in detail, and some are more fully interactive, such as the Enigma machine, which you can use to share coded messages with friends.
What's especially great is that none of this feels gimmicky. Instead, this app points towards the future of books, strong content being married to useful and engaging interactivity.