Barefoot Atlas: Tour The World With Your Kids Before Bedtime [Review]


Every one of those icons has a story to tell
Every one of those icons has a story to tell

Barefoot Books World Atlas ($8) is a kind of digital globe for children, giving them easy access to a simplified cartoon overview of the whole world.

From the orbital view (for want of a better word), you see the globe peppered with hundreds of colorful icons. Spin the globe and zoom in. The little icons grow and become tappable controls. Each one reveals a snippet of information in text and audio form (read aloud by the UK’s favorite TV geographer (yes, we have those), Nick Crane). There’s also a photo to look at for each fact, which is often much more informative than the icon was to start with.

Browse by geographical region or country

Select a country and the info panel does something clever: it pulls in live data from Wolfram Alpha, including such things like the current local time and weather, currency exchange rates, and how far that country is from where you live (which it knows thanks to your iPad’s built-in geo awareness).

Live data from Wolfram Alpha (metric only, mind you)

This is an app for enquiring young minds, but despite its 1.5 gigabytes of content, it doesn’t have (and shouldn’t be expected to provide) all the answers.

Even large countries only merit a handful of fact points, and the ones chosen can sometimes seem quite arbitrary, and occasionally rather odd. For example: the only fact representing the whole of Scotland is titled “Scottish boy”, with accompanying text referencing Scotland’s high rainfall. Why didn’t they title it “Scottish climate”, I wonder?

Hi there Scottish boy! What's the weather like where you live?

Although it’s an educational app, it’s not a reference work. You shouldn’t use it to look up something specific, because the chances are you won’t find it. Instead, use it as invited: for casual educational browsing. It’s great for that.

Sit with your child as he or she spins the world beneath their fingers and jabs at the colorful dancing icons. They are bound to find facts that interest them, and spark their curiosity. If they need more detail, you can find that elsewhere on the web. (Suggestion to the developers: how about adding an in-app browser for quick “find out more” research on the fly?)

If I sound critical, I don’t intend to be. This is a fun app for inquisitive young minds, and there’s an impressive amount of information packed inside it – even if some of the information snippets seem unlikely representatives of the countries they’re linked to. It’s not supposed to be a detailed geographical atlas, so don’t buy it expecting to be able to zoom in to your town or street like you can in Google Maps. That’s not what this atlas is for. Instead, it’s designed for rainy afternoons with a cup of cocoa and a burning question on some little kid’s lips: “How far is it to China, dad? What’s it like there?”

Pro: Lots for children to explore, friendly format

Con: Some strange facts chosen in some places