First, if you’ve never heard of TED before, the best way to get a feel for it is just to watch a TED video. I’m going to embed one right here; it’s a fascinating video by Sir Ken Robinson called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” If you’ve watched it before or know what TED is, feel free to skip along to the app itself.
Now, let’s take a look at TED Air itself:
This is the home screen of the app, where you can quickly see the latest talks, scroll through the whole list or search for a specific one. Note how the app lists each video’s duration right under it – this is very useful, because if you know you have about ten minutes before your date is about to show up, you may not want to start watching a 20-minute video (they tend to be engaging).
The bottom toolbar presents several other ways to find interesting videos. Tags are pretty much what you’d expect:
It’s not a cloud but an alphabetical list of tags with a quick-jump link so you don’t have to arduously scroll all the way down to S, for example. There’s no way to sort the tags or combine multiple tags (i.e, find videos tagged Art and Society), but it’s a quick way to find videos about any particular topic. Sometimes your topic of choice may be broader than just a single tag, which is where Themes come in:
The page for each theme contains a wordy description of what it’s all about, followed by a list of videos on that theme:
The Speakers tab is rather self-explanatory, so we can just move along and drag the bottom toolbar to the left, exposing several three more buttons. The most useful one is called Downloads:
This is a very thoughtful addition by TED Air’s creator: Watching streaming video on your cellular data connection can take a serious bite out of your limited data plan; worse still, your connection may not be fast enough to watch streaming video and you may not always have reception. That’s why you can download any video from the list onto your device when you’re at home using your speedy Wi-Fi connection. Then, when you’re on the go, you can simply go to the Downloads tab and tap the video you’d like to watch.
One niggling issue with downloading videos is that you can download just one video at a time: The download dialog is modal (“blocking”), so you need to pick a video, download it (wait, wait, wait), then pick the next video to download. It would have been nice if there was a way to queue up videos for download and then just download them all en masse.
Last but not least, let’s take a look at the settings:
A part of what makes TED Air elegant is that it’s actually not overloaded with options and settings. I liked that the app can auto-rotate the screen even if your phone’s auto-rotation is disabled (as happens to be the case on my phone). The subtitles also work very well. I tested both English and Hebrew – Hebrew did have some right-to-left issues, but I suspect almost no-one would mind (not even if you can read Hebrew). English subtitles were in perfect sync with the video, and very readable in full-screen mode.
The Bottom Line
TED is a fantastic institution, and TED Air is a great way to consume the content it produces. If you’ve ever wanted to watch short, fascinating videos on the go, you really should take TED Air for a spin. Have a go yourself and let us know in the comments what you think of it.