With the Olympics mere days away, it's estimated that millions of visitors will descend on the great city of London – a city that's endured more than its fair share of disasters and controversies since its founding in AD 43. In timely fashion, a new iPad iOS app, London – A City Through Time (iPad only, £9.99), has been released to educate us about the Capital of England (and once the world).
A beautiful illustrated menu displays a slideshow of some of the 2,000 photos contained within the app, and gives you access to the many different sections. The bulk of the app is made up of a collection of 6,000+ articles, and our preferred method of casually browsing them is the timeline of London's rather colourful history, which you flick through with a swipe of your finger. The timeline runs from 501 BC through Roman occupation, the rise of the Saxons, the Middle Ages and so on, up until the present day – so if a comprehensive overview of London's background is what you require, this is the app for you.
We loved the simple yet informative presentation, which shows you at a glance the period of history, the monarch of the time, and any major events that happened. Simply tap anything you see and an article pops up containing a more detailed description, often accompanied by links to other articles and illustrations. Some 360-degree spins of famous landmarks and museum pieces are also included, but most of these are a little bizarre (a plastic rose decoration?) – although we did enjoy the cool 3D animated model of Tower Bridge. Far more interesting are the historical panoramas and maps (dating from 1560 onwards), which show just how much the city has changed over the centuries.
Note that to save you valuable storage space, any huge images are shown as low-res versions unless you manually download the full-sized version – probably just as well, as London – A City Through Time eats up a whopping 1GB of storage space from the original download alone.
If you happen to be roaming around London you might be more interested in the map, which shows you important historical events that happened in your local vicinity, as well as interesting landmarks. GPS support is included, and we were impressed to see entries on the small villages along the outskirts of London, where we live. You can also see the favourite hang-out spots of various celebrities, from Michael Palin to Renee Zellweger, or check out a full history of the Underground – right down to the life and times of individual stations. Three short audio tours have also been included, giving you the history of central areas.
Those not fortunate enough to be in our great city can check out a selection of 360-degree panoramas from various locations instead, although these need to be downloaded individually, and some of them don't exactly capture the spirit of the locations. For instance, the London Zoo entry is a rather dreary shot of a near-empty monkey cage. Some of the others make up for it, however, including a neat action shot in Trafalgar Square as a flock of pigeons take to the skies. You can also watch old archive videos of historical events, a very cool bonus feature, although there are no media controls beyond 'pause' and 'play'.
Anyone who wants a potted history of London in one handy place should definitely consider splashing out on London – A City Through Time. The app may suffer a few little quirks, but the presentation is slick and we were impressed by the sheer depth and breadth of information.