World War II on the iPad


A search on World War II (world war ii, world war 2, ww2, etc.) at the app store will yield scores of apps over several app categories, only two of which, in my opinion, are worthwhile.

First the categories:  By far the category leader is games.  You will find game titles like “World Conqueror,” “Little Commander,” “Fighter Pilot Killer Air Combat,” “World War 2 Assault,” “Commando Global Assassin,” and on and on.  Stop wasting time and money on this nonsense.  Sit down with your kids and explain why war, and especially this cataclysmic war that cost the lives of over 60,000,000 people, is not a game.  After recently completing Rick Atkinson’s Liberation trilogy, I have been reawakened to this truth.

A second, less prominent category is the infotainment app that poses as free, but is really just a leader to guide you into in-app purchases.  Many titles by TuAbogado publishers seem to fall in this category (“World War II, 1939-45 Lite,” “World War II Special 2.0,” “Great World War II Songs,” and so on).  You can’t blame them for trying, and with these apps (if you wish to clutter up your iPad with them) will give you a taste of War reference materials but want to charge you for more.  It is not a marketing ploy that I favor, and having sampled some of these apps the quality does not seem to merit the purchase.  You may disagree.

A third category of app is aimed at the military history hobbyist: “World War II Posters,” Aircraft of World War II,” World War II Warships Bible,” “WW2 Weapons,” etc.  The appeal of these is narrow, of course, and has more to do with stamp collecting than the war.

A fourth category is books and/or reference.  These are the ones in my opinion are generally worthwhile.  I found several audiobooks from Blackstone Audio, priced at $9.99, which a student of the war would want to own:  Shirer The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Winters’ Beyond Band of Brothers, interestingly C. S. Lewis’ war sermons The Weight of Glory, Axelrod’s Patton, and several others, all priced at $9.99.  Then again, if you are a student of the war you probably already own and have read (or listened to) these volumes.

What the iPad uniquely brings to the study of the war is a multimedia overview that facilitates comprehension of the grand movement of the war, with exemplary drill-downs.  I found two apps that fit this description, one good World War II Interactive ($4.99), and one even better, Timeline WW2 with Robert MacNeil ($13.99).

 World War II Interactive

The app’s table of contents scrolls across the bottom of the screen, and is divided into nine major sections:

  1. Roots of the War
  2. The War Erupts
  3. German Blitzkrieg
  4. The War Spreads
  5. Axis Advance Stalls
  6. The Tide Turns
  7. The Axis in Retreat
  8. Victory for Allies
  9. Aftermath
Intro Screen
Size reduced to fit blog post

Each major section is broken into a number of sub-sections.  The War Erupts, for example, contains the sub-heads:

  1. Invasion of Poland
  2. Phoney War
  3. Battle of the Atlantic
  4. Winter War

with Events, Timeline and Map views:

The War Erupts screen

Each of these sub-heads, when entered, contains a fact column (When, Where, Who, Result); an introductory text containing links to prominent facts or personages, which in turn pop-up info-boxes about the event or personage (Winter War, for example, contains links to Joseph Stalin and the Moscow Peace Treaty); and some embedded multimedia, mostly vintage photos but some containing video or audio.

Winter War

The text is all licensed via Wikipedia and the multimedia all seems to be creative commons or public domain, much from Wikipedia, but some from other sources, like Library of Congress or Russian and German libraries.

What’s good about it is the succinct introduction, with graphics, to the events of the war.  It would be a great introduction for war history novices.

What’s bad about it is that the text and images cannot be enlarged, and therefore presents barriers to adpative needs users.  The level is, as I say, elementary, but that is probably a virtue when introducing someone to the history of the war.

Timeline World War 2 with Robert MacNeil

The level of detail and amount of content in this app puts the other to shame.  It costs nearly three times as much, but that’s still only $13.99.  Come on, you probably spend more than that at Starbucks on the way in to work.  What makes it truly valuable is the large amount of video content packaged in this elegant interface, which contain the original soundtracks and new, interpretive soundtracks recorded by MacNeil.  I would take the space to describe it all, but the app producers have already done so with this really helpful video by Robert Macneil.  Watch.

While no space is allocated to the roots of the war or the aftermath contexts, as in the app described above (we begin on September 1, 1939 with the invasion of Poland and end on September 2, 1945 with the surrender of Japan) the stunning level of detail between the two events makes up for it, not to mention the ability to filter on various topics (Battles, Key Events, Location, Mode of War, Nationality, etc.) and a truly useful interactive map.

WW2 Timeline 1942 with Filter Menu

All multimedia can be played full screen, or photos can all be pinch enlarged, as can the maps.  Text on individual documents cannot be enlarged, but most of it is very legible (except to the vision impaired) because it is usually presented as fixed font courier type, as if rendered on a period Underwood typewriter  (Young people:  a typewriter was similar to our current day keyboards, having a more or less similar keypad layout, but when you pressed a key a mechanical metal typeface on a hinged arm ascended to strike an inked ribbon and left the impression of a letter of the alphabet or special symbol on paper.  Yes, I know.  There were actually jobs for people who did nothing but type.  They were called typists, and a group was called a typing pool).

Text is also presented in many cases as telegrams with map links.  (Young people:  don’t ask.  The last telegram ever will be sent next month in India.  Read this for more).


I especially like the alternate narratives for the many videos.  The original is extraordinarily valuable, and then the MacNeil narrative adds historical perspective.

Audio Choice

In fact, since this app is timeline and document based, the MacNeil narratives help to give it a larger consistency than it would otherwise have.

The maps are useful, but they are all geo-political maps that do not contain topographic features.  In war, rivers, mountains, ravines, and roads are all important, and there is not a hint of those on the maps.  Integration with Google Earth, or supplying topographic details would be very useful.  Nevertheless, because of the enormous detail, and great multimedia effects, this app is a jewel for the price.