When reading Smithsonian’s Evotourism package, imagine taking in a high-resolution 360-degree panoramic tour of Kangaroo Island, Australia. Imagine watching footage of the 1980 explosion of Mount St. Helens while reading about the reforestation of the land surrounding the volcano. Imagine learning about the Orchid Olympics and simultaneously perusing dozens of stunning, detailed photos of different orchid species.
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For the first time, all this is possible. This week will mark the latest stage in the evolution of Smithsonian in the magazine’s 41-year history: the introduction of the app for the iPad. Alongside the print version, Smithsonian is now offering an enhanced interactive version of the award-winning magazine. “This technology will change the nature of magazines in a fundamental way, while preserving the core experience of a magazine as curated content,” says Bill Allman, chief digital officer at Smithsonian Enterprises. “What’s great about these new tools is that they take a magazine like Smithsonian, in particular, to a whole other dimension.”
The app includes all the feature articles, departments and photography from the print edition, plus a number of app-only special features, like video, extra photos, supplementary interviews and interactive graphics. The entire magazine is viewable in both horizontal and vertical orientations, and has special menus for feature articles, departments and app-only extras.
“The app allows us to tell stories in a multimedia way,” Allman says. “We really have a whole new palette of tools—we can do sound, video, slide shows, interactive graphics, really anything.” Articles include many more photos than in the print version, helping to immerse the reader in the story. “Where you see one picture in the magazine, there might be three on the app that are equally as beautiful,” says Maria Keehan, Smithsonian’s art director.
Audio and video features are also used to enhance the app. “Some of the things are just flat out fun, like the motorcycle sound at the beginning of the Route 66 story,” Keehan says. “In our cover story on the Haleakala Crater in Hawaii, actually being able to hear a person’s voice—you can watch a video of Clifford Naeole chanting the traditional Hawaiian songs—is so incredible.” The app version of a story on the newly discovered “bark” of the red-bellied piranha includes the actual sound of the piranhas barking.
Interactive elements allow readers to dig more deeply into articles. “In the Evotourism package, for example, the Ashfall Fossil Beds story has a graphic of the fossils lying in the ground, and you can touch each fossil to see a graphic,” Allman says. “In a sense, the reader is now the author of that narrative, because they can go in any direction, and participate in the story in a way they couldn't before.” For “The Mystique of Route 66,” readers can tap on different spots on a map to see photography from each location along the legendary route.
Allman envisions countless possibilities for the future evolution of the app, such as integrating real-time features into articles—like Twitter feeds of figures in the story, updated continuously even months after the issue was published—or added customizable options, such as allowing readers to create their own archive of favorite articles. “This is a new way of storytelling that has heretofore been unavailable to us,” he says. “It’s as big of a shift as it was going from black-and-white to color.”