TED App Teaches, Inspires and Amazes in Ways the Website Can't
If you want to get an 18-minute dose of health food for the brain, TED lectures are always available for free on the open Web. But the series' dedicated iOS app adds a few extra hooks and features. For instance, you can download any given speech to your device, making it available for viewing even when you wander away from an Internet connection. For anyone familiar with TED lectures, the content speaks for itself.
When a website brand delivers an Apple iOS app, the results can be mixed, like the hobbled Netflix app, or they can really shine and become something better than the website itself.
Take, for instance, the video-focused educational app TED by TED Conferences. While the TED app doesn't really deliver that much more than the Web version, the app itself is the factor. Let me put it this way: Now that I have the app on my iPad 2 and iPhone 4, I'll be spending a lot more time with TED.
What Is TED, Anyway?
Basically, TED is a non-profit organization devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading." The organization holds two conferences each year, and it challenges fascinating thinkers and doers, as the organization puts it, to give the talk of their lives in under 18 minutes. The website publishes these short lectures from experts, offering up a wide range of videos -- currently 900 and growing. What might you find? You'll learn about ants, artificially grown hearts, cut-in-half cook pots, the hidden power of smiling, chronic pain, and the amazing flickering lights that come from bioluminescent deep-sea critters.
Will you be interested in any of these sorts of things? You might be surprised, and the best way to check it out is to simply go to the TED.com website and browse around a bit.
Back to the TED App
So, TED's cool and all, but in my experience, I spend far too much time already in front of a computer working, so when I have some down time, I tend not to watch Internet video at my desk unless it's work-related. Consequently, my visits to TED.com are rare. But the app, now, that's a whole new story.
When I'm using my iPad or iPhone, I typically have a bit of time to mess around. So watching a video on "nerdcore" comedy or learning how not to take consciousness for granted, is quite doable. To find talks worth watching, you can browse through 60 talks by flicking and tapping, or you can sort by tags, top tags, what's recent and what's popular. You can also browse by TED themes, which include things like "Tales of Invention," "What's Next in Tech," or "What Makes Us Happy?"
You're bound to find something either interesting or inspiring, and often, it seems, both in one video.
Speaking of inspiring, in the bottom left, there's a light bulb icon with the words, "Inspire Me." Tap it, and you get a gorgeous black screen and the words, "You want to see something ..." above a list of options: Courageous, Funny, Persuasive, Ingenious, Jaw-Dropping, Beautiful, Fascinating, Informative, or Inspiring. Tap one and you'll get a screen that lets you choose how much time you have. Leave it at the default setting of 20 minutes, and you'll get a seemingly random offer for a talk that fits your choice. If you spin the timer to an hour, you'll get a playlist of several talks -- I like this method, not because I'm likely to sit and watch for an hour; I like it because I can choose from several fascinating or informative options.
Download and Save Talks
The killer feature for me, it turns out, is the ability to take a few minutes to find some interesting talks ... and then simply download them for future viewing. I'm guessing I'll eventually have to manage this so I don't fill up the iPad's storage capacity, but it is nice to get an instant view out of a locally stored video. On home-based WiFi with not particularly fast DSL service, the video quality streamed is quite acceptable.
One feature I wish the TED app had was to create a simple playlist or bookmark list without having to download the full video.
As for sharing your fascinating finds, TED has the standard Twitter, Facebook and email sharing features built in. To add your own comments, though, you'll have to go to the TED.com website, but this isn't nearly as onerous as you might think: Tapping the link in the app takes you to the page that has the video in question, through an in-app browser. This lets you view and comment, as well as navigate through the website. You can even view the videos through the built-in browser, but in my experience, the quality wasn't quite as nice as through the base app itself.
All-in-All, Nice, Very Nice
Overall, TED is a well-thought out extension to the TED.com universe. It's free, functional and lets you take TED with you even if you don't have a WiFi or cellular service connection.
If you like fascinating, challenging and inspiring topics delivered by smart experts in highly consumable chunks, TED is for you.
Of course, if you very much prefer videos of startled cats, there's always the built-in YouTube app.