Archive for the ‘field guide’ Category
While we wait for iBird Pro for iPad to appear in the app store, it might be a good time to revisit iBird Explorer Pro for iPhone, in some detail, for those who are not familiar with the application, or who have not considered it in a while.
Version 3.0, just released, is a major upgrade…adding, first and foremost, over 5 hours of reference standard sounds from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, both songs and calls, with multiple recordings for many birds. This removes, to a large extent, the only clear competitive advantage some iPhone field guides have had over iBird. (Note also, the Similar Sounding list…it is much more extensive on some birds.)
In addition, version 3.0 offers multiple Favorite lists and, if you are using iOS4 and the latest iTunes, the ability to sync both Favorite Lists and Species Notes to your desk/laptop. This makes it possible to use one Favorite List as a Life List, and another as a trip list (not ideal yet, but possible). If after syncing you store the lists and notes in separate folders, you can even keep multiple sets. (There is a through tutorial on the More page that helps with the use of multiple Favorite Lists and sets of Species Notes.)
There are also a few refinements to the UI…most notably Size and Length sliders where appropriate in Search mode, and, though a simple thing, shadowing at the ends of the navigation bar at the bottom of the Species screens that makes it clear (for the first time, see the screen shot above) that the thing slides left or right to reveal more options! A simple thing, but it should eliminate some initial frustration on the part of new users. The Help section has also been refined, with a new, more graphical delivery of the basics, and that should also ease the new user’s pain considerably.
Those are the most important new features, but let us revisit the feature set that makes this the best of the field guides currently on the iPhone. We will begin with the reference section.
But the reference section is only half the program. The search section offers the most comprehensive and useful set of search criteria of any of the iPhone filed guides…setting a standard that will be hard to match. As mentioned above, where appropriate, sliders and pickers are employed, but the real strength is the graphical approach to criteria. Anything that can be illustrated, is.
Pages of search criteria organized into logical groups.
illustrated, icon driven, search criteria…
sound sample for song search
As criteria are selected the number of species that match is shown at the top of the search screen.
A complete list of criteria looks like this:
As I have mentioned in past reviews, iBird’s search mode can be an excellent tool to teach new birders the kinds of things they should be looking for as they are observing birds in the field.
With this breath of features and depth of solid information, iBird Explorer Pro for iPhone 3.0 continues to set the standard, not only for what a birding field guide can be on the iPhone, but for what any iPhone field guide can aspire to. There is more information here at the tips of your fingers than any birder could digest in a lifetime…but it is all information that a birder might need, sometime, somewhere. The magic is that, with iBird Explorer Pro, it is right there in your pocket!
I have been an iBird user since all they had out was the Backyard version for the iPhone/iPod Touch, so, of course I was interested to see what they could do with the program on the larger format and higher processing power of the iPad. IBird Yard for iPad was ready on launch day and demonstrates many of the strengths of the new device, as well as many of the very real differences between the two platforms.
I should say, right up front here, that iBird for the iPad is the Backyard version. It only covers 148 of the most common species of North American Birds. I am sure there will be Plus or Pro versions with the complete species list down the road. [According to the publisher, a Yard Plus version has already been submitted to the app store, which will include 82 more species. This will be a free upgrade for current users of iBird Yard for the iPad.]
The feature set of iBird for iPad is all but identical to the iPhone versions, but the layout, the look and feel, and especially the program navigation are all tailored to the new platform. Like most programs I have tied on the iPad, iBird has very distinct portrait and landscape modes, Portrait mode presents the information in slightly larger format…text is bigger, images are bigger, etc., and relies on pop-overs accessed via buttons to display the index of species, while landscape uses the extra width of the screen to display more information, and especially, more options simultaneously. Compare the two screen shots below. In landscape mode you can view the species index/search panel (in numerous different formats) at the same time. This makes switching species especially fast and easy, and gives you instant access to species search within the index. The Gallery alternative index view provides what amounts to an index for the highly visual. And because of the size of the iPad screen, the illustrations in the Gallery index are large enough to make finding the right bird as easy as flicking through the index until you see something that look right. While that might not sound like much, it gives the non-linear, non-text based folks among us a way of finding the right bird that is roughly equivalent to flipping through the field guide, but a lot more efficient, elegant, and practical.
The species index is a work of programming art. It provides 4 ways to view the index: Compact (name only), Icon (illustrated), Album (like icon but with larger images of the bird, and the above mentioned Gallery view. It also provides 4 ways to sort the index: first name, last name, family and taxonomic, and 3 ways to search for specific species within the index: common name, Latin name, and band code (a system of abbreviations used by bird banders).
Lets take one more look at the Overview page to demonstrate just how much information is presented in this view. Expand the annotated screen shot to full size by clicking for an easy view.
The illustrations, as mentioned, expand to full page size by touching the Portrait control. This opens a new view with the illustration full sized and the index next to it (screen shot 1 below). Or you can just touch the illustration in the Overview view and it will open as a separate view (screen shot 2).
And of course that is just the beginning. The Identify page presents information on Body shape, size, color, and patterns, the same for the Head, a detailed description of the flight characteristics, and a panel of Interesting Facts.
The Photos page presents 1 to 5 images contained within the program’s data base as iPhone sized shots, and a panel which automatically searches flickr for images of the species. It can pull down hundreds of images, thousands of some species. There are, for instance, 44 panels of images of Baltimore Oriole. Touching any image in the flickr panel opens the m.flickr.com page for that image. Unfortunately that is as far as you can go. It would probably be too much to ask to be able to view the flickr images at larger sized too. :( 🙂
While we are on internet resources, there is also a page to display the Birdipedia info on the species, which includes current conservation status (actually the Wiki page for the bird reformatted).
Where the iPad interface really shines though, is in the Search features.
I have never really used the search feature on the iPhone version much. That perhaps says more about me than the tool itself. For me there are just too many steps required to specify search criteria to make the process attractive or fluid. I am sure there are folks who think it is the best feature of iBird on the iPhone, and use it to great effect. I admit that I am not one of them.
However, on the iPad version, Search suddenly becomes attractive to me. The search view uses pop-overs and multiple panels to good effect, and you are presented with an instantaneous and continuous view of matches that updates as you specify new criteria. Want to know what you have already set. There is a little red dot that appears on the icon for every criteria set you have already used, and, for details, you can simply touch the History button and a pop-over appears with your criteria so far. The criteria lists, by the way, are already pre-qualified (this is such a unique feature that it is patented!). Selections that would result in 0 matches are grayed out. Each criteria that would yield matches displays the number of matches under its icon, so you have some idea what you are selecting. And, the color criteria allow both And and Or searches…both colors or one or the other of the colors you choose. And all of it is very graphical. Song and flight patterns have drawings to illustrate the patterns. Bill lengths have sample birds. Colors are bright swatches. All together it makes the search process, to me at least, much more intuitive and fluid: and powerful.
And, in addition to the more elegant search, there is a completely new feature, not included in the iPhone version. Compare allows you to display up to four species, along with an illustrated list of the search attributes that apply to each species. This is an amazing learning tool…and potentially much more useful when the full Plus or Pro versions appear with more species. Comparing species, whether close in appearance or widely separated, will build a sense of what distinguishes one bird from another…of exactly what to look for in the field when you are working without your iBird handy. Using it as a study aid will, in my opinion, build your field skills faster than any method short of observing the living birds…and even with the living birds in front of you, you rarely get a chance to do such comparison, since the species only very rarely cooperate by sitting in the same binocular field. In my opinion, the Compare feature of iBird Backyard makes it a must have for any iPad owning birder attempting to improve his or her id skills.
And then, of course, there are the Audio features: a complete set of sound recordings for the species included.
Special note should be made of the Help system, which amounts to one of the most complete instruction manual/tutorials I have yet seen for an application, let alone one on the iPad. It is worth paging through. In fact I would say that if you do not use the Help screens, you will, without doubt, miss some of the most powerful features of iBird for iPad.
I missed two. Totally. Until they were pointed out to me. Both the Notes and Favorite features, long available in the iPhone version, have been considerably augmented in the iPad version. Notes can now be synced with iTunes, edited on your computer, and synced back to the iPad. The limitation I still see in Notes is that it appears you can only have one note per species at a time. You could, of course, after syncing with iTunes, sore the existing note in a unique spot (a new folder) and rename it, create a new one, etc…which you could then save somewhere else (another folder) on sync. That way you could have multiple note sets. It is also possible to insert multiple date stamps in the note to separate entries in one longer note.
In addition, the Favorites feature now becomes really useful for listers, as the iPad version allows you keep multiple lists of Favorites. You can even give each Favorite list a unique name. This opens the possibility of a Life List, State lists, trip lists, etc. etc. all kept within the app, and all available for syncing through iTunes to your computer. This is a considerable advance!
If you have studied the screen shots above, you might have noticed that there are two ways to navigate between the various views and functions. There is a sliding menu along the bottom of the screen with buttons, like an animated task bar on a computer, or you can turn that off and use the pop-over menu under the open book icon on the bottom left of the screen, as shown in the screen shot below.
So, bottom line. iBird Backyard for the iPad is everything iBird for iPhone is…and more. It uses the features of the new platform to present a vast amount of information about birds and birding in a totally unique way. The iPhone version is also unique, but the differences are as subtle as differences between the two devices. The iPhone version, with most of the same features and information, on a device that fits in your pocket, is what I think of as the perfect digital, multi-media field guide: the first really effective, complete, and superior alternative to the printed guide. In fact, iBird on the iPhone is the first field guide I have actually carried in the field in years.
iBird on the iPad, however, is more like an encyclopedia and bird study course rolled into one. Though the iPad can be carried in the field (it is not much more bulky than the National Geographic printed guide, and certainly less bulky than the full Sibely), personally, I would be unlikely to do so. I can tuck my iPhone in my pocket, more or less out of harms way, but, while I am sure gorilla glass is wonderful stuff, I would be paying way too much attention to keeping my $500 iPad safe to really enjoy using it in the field. Again, just me. Your take may be totally different. And, of course, this is not so much a comment on iBird as it is on the iPad itself.
However, as a home reference and learning aid, with occasional field functionality (which is, actually, exactly what I consider both the National Geographic and Sibely printed field guides), iBird for iPad is totally unlike anything we could have even imagined a few years ago. Sure, we had multi-media birding programs on DVD and multi-media birding sites on the web. But as Steve Jobs says, the iPad is magic. There is something about interacting with the information using your fingers that elevates the experience to a whole new level of satisfaction, of ease, and of fascination. Someone said iBird for the iPhone represented the first true digital book…but he had not seen iBird for the iPad. I have seen the future of information publishing. It is iBird on the iPad. Oh there are other great examples, and more coming, but someday our children will look back to 2009/10 as the year publishing went digital. They will remember the iPad as the first device to really take it there…and they just may remember iBird for the IPad as the first truly convincing demonstration of the potential. Certainly they will if they are themselves birders…or the children of birders. I have seen the future. It is here in the iPad, and it is here in iBird Backyard…and it is going to be good.
You may know that Green Mountain Digital is in the process of recreating many of the excellent photographic field guides published under the auspices of the National Audubon Society over the years. They already have Birds, Wildflowers, Trees, Fishes, Mammals, Reptiles, and Insects, plus a combination guide to Birds, Trees, Mammals, and Wildflowers, and numerous regional variations on Birds and Wildflowers in particular. For the full range of guides, search for audubon in iTunes or the App Store on your device. Prices range from $5.00 for state level wildflower guides, and $10 for national guides to say, wildflowers or reptiles, to $20 for Birds, and $40 for the 4 in 1 guide.
All are built on the same app engine and work pretty well, especially on faster iPhones. The guides on the 3G or previous, require some patience to use. I am eagerly awaiting the 4G this month!. Switching from browse to search, in particular seems to take forever on a 3G. The other inexplicable idiosyncrasy of the series, that can take some getting used to, is the lack of visual or audio feedback for some selections. Most iPhone apps highlight, or shadow, or dim, or click when you touch a selection. Sometimes there is nothing in the Audubon apps. The spinner spins, and eventually you get to where you were going, but there is no indication your touch has taken.
The iPhone versions have been updated with additional photographs, rewritten text, updated range maps, etc. and all include a multi-term search engine that will at least narrow your choices for an ID. I have tested the Bird app, which is a good supplement to iBird, but not a replacement for it, and have used the Wildflower app as my reference of choice on the iPhone.
One of my favorite Audubon series has always been the regional Nature Guides. I have owned one for every region where I have lived or spent significant time. In a single volume you find a surprisingly comprehensive guide to the birds, wildflowers (which includes many grasses and sedges as well), butterflies, insects and spiders, reptiles and amphibians, fishes, seashells, seashore creatures, and trees (which includes many shrubs). The guides also provide a good basic introduction regional habitats, geology, weather, and places to see nature. To me they are the ideal companion on any nature hike, and I rarely go out exploring without one in my back or fanny pack, appropriate to the region.
I was excited, then, to see the regional Nature series begin to appear in the App Store this month. I immediately bought New England Nature, and have been using it for a for several days now.
Except for the speed issues, which I am confident are less troublesome on a 3GS and expect to be no bother at all on the new iPhone, the app is everything I had hoped it would be. It builds on the excellent foundation of the paper version, and adds features and content that extend its usefulness in interesting ways.
If you take a look at the screen shots below you will get an idea of the range of resources which the app literally puts at your fingertips.
Not all sections have the same resources. Butterflies lack range maps, but have a direct link to the Reference section (kind of a super-glossary with background information on the species in the section). Mammals have range maps but no direct Reference link. Of special note is the fact that the Birds section carries over the excellent sound library from Audubon Birds. This set goes well beyond simple song and chipnote recordings. Baltimore Oriole, for instance, has 11 recordings ranging from Songs and Calls (5 different) to the begging sounds of newly fledged birds. Impressive audio indeed.
The screen shots that follow will give you an idea of the search feature. Only three criteria, from the butterfly section, are pictured. Each section has its own set of criteria. Birds, for instance, have shape, color, habitat,locomotion, size, song call pattern, song call type, and wing shape. Wildflowers have shape, color, habitat, and month. Each section has a unique set of criteria designed to help you best home in on an ID.
The Natural History sections are pulled directly from the printed guides: Birding Hotspots and Natural Sites, Natural Highlights, Habitats, Topography, Conservation and Ecology, and Weather and Seasons.
The final set of features has huge potential but is, so far, very inconsistently implemented. If you look at the first set of screen shots you will see icons in the icon set at the bottom of the species views for Life List and Sightings. The Sightings function is fairly well implemented. Touching the icon opens a screen for that species where you can enter basic info on your sighting. (I was not able to get the “use Phone Location” feature to work, but it is there.) Sightings are then saved to an illustrated list, linked back to the species pages, within the app. Unfortunately Life List does not work the same way. Touching that icon on any species page only opens a text entry box where you have to manually enter the species name. ???? I don’t get it. Finally, in the Dashboard at the bottom of the main screens there is a Photo icon. This allows you to take a picture and save it in an album within the app, but again, there is no way to link your picture to any given species or sighting. ???. Again, I don’t get it. Also there does not seem to be any way to export your sightings or lists or pictures to…maybe a website, twitter, facebook, your laptop??? What is GMD thinking here?
Still, taking the app for what it is, and not for what it isn’t, this is an amazingly useful (at least to me) addition to my iPhone field guide suite. It puts the full range of New England nature at my fingertips, in one tidy and highly functional package. At $15.00 I consider it a bargain. I paid more for my paper copy, and the iPhone version, even beyond portability considerations, has a lot more to offer. Regional Nature Guides for Florida, California, and Texas so far, besides the New England guide reviewed here are available in the App Store. I am sure more are in the works.
The iPhone is an amazing machine, but it is apps like the New England Nature Guide that make carrying it worth while!