Brainfeed for iPad: Paying for free content

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Apps like Brainfeed frustrate me somewhat. It’s a great looking app, but it has some content issues. The idea behind Brainfeed is that it serves up educational videos in a variety of topics, some of which are free to view, but most of the videos require an in-app purchase in a variety of tiers, the cheapest being $15 for a yearly subscription. However, (you can probably guess where this is going) a 20 second check of YouTube revealed that the videos were easily available here. Fair enough, I thought, the free videos on Brainfeed are available on YouTube. What would be interesting though is are any of the paid videos available? The short answer is yes. The app doesn’t give you the titles for the locked videos, only screenshots, but it is easy to find the locked videos on YouTube with a quick search of videos from the video creator’s channels. To give an example, one of the locked videos was by ‘Stuff of Genius’. I dialed up their YouTube channel and the locked video was there to watch for free.

Brainfeed on top. 20 second YouTube search on bottom.
Brainfeed on top. 20 second YouTube search on bottom.

In the blurb for Brainfeed on the App Store it talks about the app being “a child safe babysitter” and I can understand that the app developers are highlighting the fears of some people about the dangers of the internet and the dodgy videos on YouTube. However, if you are going to give a child an unrestricted iPad or 3/4G phone they will be able to go on YouTube and the internet anyway. It is more profitable in my humble opinion, to have the conversation with your children about the dangers online, rather than band-aiding these issues away with an app like this.

Brainfeed paid content on the top, freely available on YouTube at the bottom.
Brainfeed paid content on the top, freely available on YouTube at the bottom.

Credit to the app designers that the user interface of Brainfeed is very good and fluid, and I like the option to download the videos for offline use, but if I am paying for the full functionality of an app like this then I would expect exclusive videos which are not available anywhere else on the web. An app which actually does this is the similarly titled BrainPop. With BrainPop you get an exclusive video everyday, plus quizzes to test your knowledge on it. This again charges a subscription fee, which is less than half the price of what Brainfeed are asking.

The app also markets itself as a teaching aid in the classroom. I would agree that yes, it might be useful for the free videos, but as the app uses in-app purchases, it is currently impossible for schools to use these as part of the Volume Licensing Program. Some schools also block YouTube and it would be interesting to see if Brainfeed get their video feeds from YouTube, which may also cause their videos to be blocked. To be fair, I have no way of testing this so it might not be the case.

Being tight, I do object to an app charging a lot of money for something that is freely, easily and legally available online. All you are really paying for with Brainfeed is a nice user interface, hand picked videos and no adverts. I’d argue that actually adverts are a realistic way of life now online and unless they are massively intrusive or adult in content then I don’t really have a problem with them.

I can see this app appealing to you if you have a lot of money swimming about, don’t mind your subscription auto-renewing (unless you disable this feature yourself) and don’t want the hassle of creating a YouTube playlist, but other than that if I wanted my daughter to have this sort of facility I would direct her to some of the excellent iPad educational apps or channels on YouTube like NASA, National Geographic or the Discovery Channel.

I am coming at this app from an educationalist viewpoint and I think Brainfeed might be more of an attractive option if it charged a reasonable fee for the app outright and positioned itself as a portal to educational video, rather than having a hefty subscription for something that is already available freely online. If the app was available for say $2.99, this would certainly be something worth considering.

Footnote: I didn’t check every video on Brainfeed, but every video I did check was available on YouTube after a very short search.

Brainfeed is available for free on the App Store here. There are various in-app purchases available.

James Potter

My day job is Director of Technology at one of the UK's leading independent schools. I'm on a daily mission to use, and learn to use technology in the most creative, innovative and transformational ways. The iPad ticks all of these boxes. I'm also an Apple Distinguished Educator, so at least Apple think I know what I'm blathering on about. My geekery also extends to a passion for cricket, amateur astronomy, video gaming and bad guitar playing. You can contact me on Twitter with the link below.

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