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Sunday, December 21, 2008

iBird Explorer for iPhone

I gave myself a fantastic little toy a couple of months ago for my 40th birthday- an iPhone. The multiple communication, navigation, and web features (built-in and 3rd-party apps) already make it an incredible birding tool, but bird-specific applications for the iPhone have seemed to be conspicuously absent until the last month or so.That's not the case anymore! I just got a review copy of iBird Explorer in the Backyard and Plus versions for iPhone- their simplest and most inclusive, respectively (iBird Explorer also comes in a Windows Mobile version.) iBird Explorer Backyard has 145 species and is marketed at casual birders, while Plus covers 891 bird species for us serious folks. iBird also comes in several regional packages- West, Midwest, North, South, and Canada. I'll profile it a bit more in my next Geared for Birding column in Winging It (The American Birding Association's newsletter), but at a quick glance this is a very cool app. Here's what their features page lists, with a few of my comments:
  • ■ Plays the songs and calls of almost any species of bird in North America. And it’s loud enough to attract the bird right to you! (Use responsibly! To their credit, iBird Explorer's web site includes the ABA Code of Birding Ethics.)

    ■ A visual icon-driven search engine for identifying species by color, shape, habitat, location, etc. (Cool concept- haven't tested it much yet, though.)

    ■ Hand-drawn James Audubon quality full-sized color illustrations with both perching and flight views (Well, John James wouldn't be my first choice of comparison, but we get the idea...)

    ■ Multiple professional photographs of every species in numerous plumages, sexes and seasons (Nice idea, and an area that should grow in future releases. Will this end the age-old arguments of illustrations vs. photos in a field guide?)

    ■ Identification and behavior information so extensive it covers everything from what the bird eats to the color of the eggs it lays (A little Birds of North America-style info- always good. Speaking of which, how about a BNA app??)

    ■ Full color range maps for every species (Did Paul Lehman have a hand in these, too?)

    ■ Detailed Wiki pages for every bird (Welcome to Web 2.0!)

    ■ Lifetime updates (you never need to buy another guide because we push out any changes we make for free) (Could be the single best feature of guides like this vs. paper books.)

Other planned upgrade features:
  • ■ Additional illustrations covering other plumages including seasonal, fledgling, juvenile, etc. (The more the merrier. Wonder if Sibley &/or Kaufman are thinking about this format?)

    ■ Many new photographs. (Can you ever have enough?)

    ■ Sighting/Observation list feature based on You’ll be able to record all the details of any observation or sighting then upload it to the popular eBird database where you can have your own account. (I think this is a must-have feature on any web-enabled smart phone or Windows Mobile device!)

    ■ Synchronization with user accounts. (Don't know what this is but I'm sure users will be happy.)

    ■ Quizzes and identification tests, puzzles and word games. (I'm all for anything that might engage kids more or make road trips a little less boring.)

More generally, this type of bird guide (along with Windows Mobile apps like National Geographic Handheld Birds and Pocket Bird Recorder) offers extreme portability, the ability to integrate multimedia like sound files (can video showing behavior traits be far away?) and checklisting capabilities. (Like how I made a verb out of checklist? Maybe I should trademark that if someone hasn't already done that...) I have a feeling that more iPhone birding apps will debut in 2009- is the era of guidebook 2.0 getting into full swing?

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