iMuscle — (NOVA Series) — iPad edition, from developers 3D4Medical.com, LLC, is a pretty well-known app within the health and fitness community and has been available for some time. Just updated to version 1.1, the app comes highly recommended by our colleagues over at TUAW, with Michael Grothaus gushing:

I’ve raved about 3D 4 Medical’s apps in the past. They are so well designed, I can’t think of better apps to show off the power of the iPad. Apple even used one of 3D4′s apps in an iPad commercial. The company’s latest app… lives up to the reputation established by previous apps.

At only $4.99, I decided to buy the thing and give it a spin.

I wish I hadn’t.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the app. It’s reasonably well-designed and full-featured, offering good value for the money in terms of content. As a reference resource — its main intended function — it works well. It features animated exercise and stretching demonstrations, accurate muscle names, and decent visuals outlining various muscles’ origins and insertions. It has modifiable, trackable workouts with multi-user support; and it makes a handy tool for quickly and easily showing clients what exercises affect what parts of the body.

That said, iMuscle is not a well-coded product. When I opened the app for the first time, I was greeted with the familiar blue popup bearing this message:

Attention: iMuscle may crash if you don’t completely close other unused apps.

Huh?

Wonderful. On my 16 GB iPad, I had 95 applications in the tray! Naturally, 3D4Medical doesn’t expect me to close all these open apps, but I don’t appreciate the implied developer inattention behind such a warning. If the app is written in an overwhelmingly memory-intensive manner, it should be explicitly restricted to the iPad 2 (or, better, simply rewritten to deliver data more efficiently).

Aside from that, there are technical caveats to several of the app’s featured claims. Some are more important than others, but all are worth mention. First, though the app offers “over 450 hi-quality 3D animated exercises and stretches,” this isn’t as vast a repository as it may seem. Depending on various medical definitions, there are between 640 and 850 muscles in the human body. Granted the app is concerned with the larger skeletal muscle groups (and not smaller complexities like “eye muscles,” for example), don’t expect a huge amount of variety. The movements you’re shown are going to be of the most basic sort. But basics aren’t bad, and I’ll let this slide.

What really gets me is the professed “ability to view muscle[s] in 3D and rotate them 360 degrees.” That last bit’s only half (read “1/90th”) true. The rotation isn’t one-to-one. Instead, you’re actually just swiping between four views: front, back, left, and right. You cannot stop anywhere in between or pause the rotation to view muscles from dynamic angles. Zooming is also extremely limited, and pinch-to-zoom is one way only. If you want really close muscular close-ups, iMuscle’s not for you.

It doesn't get any closer (or better) than this.

Also curiously, if you’re viewing the model’s torso on the right lateral side and scroll down to the leg, the view will not continue along to the right lateral thigh. Instead, it shows you the medial left leg; and the only way to access the right leg is to view both legs from the front and zoom in from there. I assume this is a bug, though it looks and feels intentional. Either way, it’s definitely confusing; and the app misuses the term “medial,” making things more muddy yet even.

This is the right lateral pelvis, not medial. And scrolling down...

...we get the left medial thigh. Weird.

My last complaint is one of developer integrity. In iMuscle‘s ever-prevalent menu bar, the very first icon toggles their “available products” page. I paid five dollars for the app; I don’t expect my menu to be cluttered with this sort of nonsense.

At least put it last on the right!

So, there you have it. Mr. Grothaus and myself are in disagreement, and that’s okay. iMuscle is pretty to look at, but — to make a gym-rat analogy — a lot of it seems more like Synthol than hard work.

Update: John Moore, CEO of 3D4Medical, has contacted me with a bit of clarification. I state in the preview that “iMuscle is an attractive and informative app, [but] it’s plagued by performance issues, control problems, and a little misinformation.” Mr. Moore takes particular exception to this, and I think I understand him. I should have chosen my words more carefully, because the extent to which the app has performance, control, and informational problems is not so great as to be a “plague.” Perfection is an unattainable thing, and I was being too harsh judging this (or any) app in that light. The NOVA engine, built in-house, is impressive but immature, and — like all technical developments — it remains a work in progress. I have now revised that excerpt to better reflect my specific problems with the app.

Please note that an update is currently being planned that will resolve several of my complaints and further refine the application.

Mr. Moore has reminded me that his company offers a more descriptive, muscularly intensive app called Muscle System Pro II, available now in the App Store.

I have replaced the original lead picture of this article of my own accord. (It was, I’m afraid, a poorly-thought-out joke.)