Video Time Machine is my pick for today’s Best iPad App Ever. Hands down. This is one of those very rare apps that grabs you from the first moment that you open it, and just keeps you gripped and fascinated on every visit to it. It’s the equivalent of a great book you can’t put down, you just keep wanting more.
As the app title states, it’s a video time machine, from the guys who created the YouTube Time Machine (YTTM) website. It contains over 10,000 hand-picked videos – from 1860 right up to 2011. So if you want to see a John Kennedy campaign ad from 1960, it’s easy to find. Or you want to watch Michael Jordan drop 63 points on the Celtics in the 1986 NBA Playoffs, oh yeah, that’s just as easy.
I love the backstory for how the website came to be, with a couple of friends out for beer and pizza and a fantastic idea fleshed out on a napkin. Here’s just a piece of the About page for the app on this:
Following many a beer (and PIZZA!) I was regaling him with the tale of my previous night, in which I had been up very late watching Michael Jordan videos from 1996. It made me feel so awesome deep down inside … like it was Sunday afternoon, and I was 14, sipping on a milkshake and watching my fav team play. That Jordan-fest lurched into a 4 am search for Primal Rage videos, and countless other mid-90s stuff.
I realized then, that it wasn’t specifically Jordan or Primal Rage videos I was searching for … it was 1996 … the feeling of being in 1996 … As I was lost, in the mists of time, Del broke me out of my ponderous silence and said ‘DUDE! THAT SHOULD BE A WEBSITE!!’ I said ‘YES!’ he said ‘YES!’ – and then we probably high 5’ed. …
The interface of Video Time Machine is basic and super easy to use. You have a spinner control at the top right of the screen, where you can choose a year and a category and then immerse yourself in great videos of that time. The categories include Movies, Music, TV, News, Sports, Games, and Ads. You can also just choose ‘All’ and then really settle back for a long viewing session.
There’s also a handy Random button if you want to leave the selection entirely to chance.
You can use the big green arrows to move forward and back through the videos in each category / year, or just swipe through them.
Below each video you’ll see a bit of byline text, saying who submitted the video and how many videos there are in the set you’re viewing.
You can toggle full-screen viewing of the videos on and off with a single tap; and the app supports AirPlay video – so you can enjoy them up on the big screen if you’ve got an Apple TV.
— You can share videos via Facebook and Twitter.
— The content. The spectacularly well chosen mix of great content. There’s just so much of it, and it’s so much fun discovering it. Here are just a handful of things that have had me spending heaps of time with the app, while just casually and randomly browsing round it:
A trailer for ‘Enter the Dragon’ from 1973 …
Highlights of the Frazier-Foreman heavyweight bout when Foreman knocked Frazier down 100 times or so …
From the Games section, a DOS Command and Conquer Installation from 1995 (Yuck, remember setting IRQs and such?) …
A demo of a quickest run through Quake …
— Others I noted as I went through include news reports and George Bush’s address to the nation on the day of the 9/11 attacks, tons of Michael Jordan highlights, the greatest rugby try ever scored, lots of excellent music videos, movie trailers for so many classics, goofy ads from years past, Steve Jobs introducing the iPod in 2001 and the iPhone in 2007, and on and on. I found hugely compelling content in every category and in lots of different years and decades.
— There’s no search function in the app. It would be great to be able to search for similar content across many years when you get on a Michael Jordan kick, just for example.
— It doesn’t remember where you left off. So if you switch away from the app you need to re-find the video you were watching, or just settle back and find another great one.
UPDATE: As you can see in the comments below, the developers have already fixed this issue. The app now does remember where you left off.
— It has no multitasking support (possibly due to Apple restrictions) – so if you’re enjoying a music video the audio will not continue playing if you switch away from the app.
— Some videos are quite poor quality. Not a high percentage of them by any means, but there are some that could do with being weeded out.
Video Time Machine is not a good iPad app. It’s a great iPad app. A real Best iPad App Ever app. It is one I know I will spend countless hours with. Hell, I could spend countless hours in just the Sports category, or the Music category, and the more I delve into the others the more I feel the same about just about all of them.
The fantastic thing about this app is that it doesn’t matter at all which year is Your Year, or which era is the one you’re most attached to. They’re all here. If you want to indulge all your nostalgic urges, you’re absolutely covered. If you want to discover what was going on in eras and years you’re not familiar with, you’re also covered.
Here’s an App Store link for Video Time Machine; it’s priced at just $0.99 and is a universal app designed for both the iPad and the iPhone.
Go Get It!
Disclosure: This app was independently purchased by the post author in the iPad App Store. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the "About" page.