Dino Walk: Continental Drift (for iPad)

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As its title implies, Dino Walk: Continental Drift ($2.99) includes dinosaurs, but this educational iPad app has a much broader focus. It encompasses the biological and geological changes our world has undergone in the past 600 million years. You can watch the land masses change over the eons in a fast-motion view, or visit individual eras and see images and descriptions of representative species (or their descendants in today's world). This easy-to-use app is a fun, experiential way for both children and adults to learn about continental drift, and about the huge variety of plants and animals that have inhabited the Earth.

Dino Walk is made by Vito Technology, which also makes the Star Walk 2 and Solar Walk 2 astronomy apps. I tested Dino Walk using an iPad Air 2 running iOS 9.2.

Design and Features
Most of the screen is open to show a 3D representation of the Earth, which can be rotated by swiping right or left, and zoomed in on by stretching two fingers on the screen. You can think of the app as a time machine. At the top of the screen is a bar listing 19 geological periods, eras, and epochs, ranging from the Proterozoic (600 million years ago) to the present. Each entry includes the name of the period, how far back in time it is from the present, and an icon showing a representative species—for example, Permian, 280 Ma (million years ago), with a small flying reptile. By scrolling carousel-style through the 19 entries, you can see what Earth looked like in the near or distant past, and how our planet's surface features have changed dramatically on a geological time scale due to tectonic activity (continental drift).

At the left end of the bar is a fast-backward (double-back-arrow) button, and at the right end a fast-forward button. By holding either button down, you can get an animated view of the continents shifting over time. As you might guess, the Back in Time app also lets you journey through time, though it focuses on important events in the history of the universe, Earth, and humanity, rather than the physical and ecological changes our planet has undergone.

All Creatures Great and Small
Spread over the globe are tiny thumbnails depicting representative species. If you scroll directly over a thumbnail, a larger image pops up. Tapping it brings up a photo (or illustration, for extinct creatures) that fills nearly the whole screen. In the upper-right corner of the image is an information ("i") button; tapping it brings up a very brief description of the species. Tapping a "share" button, with the standard icon, lets you email the image and its description, tweet it, share it to Facebook, or view its Wikipedia entry. You may be surprised to find occasional photos of existing species in some bygone era, but that's because the creatures have survived in similar form for tens or hundreds of millions of years.

The app shows plenty of dinosaurs—after all, they ruled the world for around 180 million years, nearly a third of the time span covered in the app—but they are but a part of the huge variety of creatures shown. (If dinosaurs are your thing, you will likely love the Ultimate Dinopedia iPad app.) Plants are included, as are birds, insects, fish and other marine organisms. Descriptions of organisms are cursory. The app's depiction of continental drift is purely experiential; there is no discussion of plate tectonics. That said, Dino Walk will surely whet the appetite for knowledge of budding geologists and biologists of all ages.

Dino Walk 2

A fun feature is the app's quiz function, accessible by pushing a button labeled Quiz in the screen's lower-left corner. You are presented with a series of multiple-choice questions about various plants and animals, present and past, and geological structures. You answer by tapping the image of one of several creatures. Although in a few cases the answers are obvious—for example—"Which lake is known for its alleged sightings of a monster?"—some require reasoning, and many, a lucky guess. Whether you are right or wrong, you get to see a description of the species in question. In fact, you keep on tapping until you uncover the correct answer. Although in trying the quiz, I didn't get a lot of right answers, I learned some intriguing facts about a variety of species.

Dino Walk: Continental Drift is an enjoyable plunge into 600 billion years of Earth's history, and the geological and biological changes that our planet has undergone. It's worth its modest price for the depiction of continental drift alone, but adds images and brief descriptions of organisms that have inhabited our world, adds a challenging quiz section, and offers good social-media integration. EarthViewer, an Editors' Choice iPad app, similarly let you watch the continents shift and transform over time, but is no longer available. Dino Walk is a good successor, and well worthy of an Editors' Choice.

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