Virtual History - Ultima Cena by Mondadori.it icon

Virtual History – Ultima Cena ($9.99) by Mondadori.it is the second in a series of educational book-apps that are changing the face of digital publishing on iOS.

If you happen to have a passion for art, books, and apps, you’ve stumbled onto the trifecta. And, if not, seeing into the future of digital publishing is worth paying a premium for. This is an interactive book that focuses on the Masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci; The Last Supper, from a variety of cultural, artistic and historical perspectives. It even addresses the mysteries described in the bestselling book and hit movie, The Da Vinci Code.

I was pleased with the prose and equally impressed with the perfect balance of information and interactivity, a tightrope act for anyone on a foray into this market.

To say you could not get this much for less in print is an understatement. If there is such a thing as a dollar-to-feature ratio, this app is a steal.

Virtual History - Ultima Cena by Mondadori.it screenshot

Mondadori teamed up with and uses Applix’s- patent pending technology for the standout feature: a 360 degree panoramic 3D immersion into images based on many of the most interesting areas of discussion. It’s called a “Bubble Viewer,” and it makes you feel like you are in the painting itself.

Their first title, Virtual History – Rome, had the same viewer, but it was a bit clunky on my iPad. An update improved it, but I tested this new offering on my iPad 2 and it’s spectacular.

Here’s a short promotional video:

You can lift your iPad and turn it to view, for example, Milan’s Santa Maria Delle Grazie Refectory, and explore it as you would in real life, by looking (holding the pad) up, down, and all around.

I thought I’d seen this before, in their first book, but wow! It’s so fluid now and the environments are so graphic and detail rich.

It is worth the $10 even if you have absolutely no interest in the subject matter, just to see how it all works.

Other interactive features include progressive timelines, overlays, three-dimensional objects to rotate and more. They are extremely polished and hiccup free.

The written content is solid. It’s not dense, you can get through it quickly, but the breadth is outstanding.

The prose, I am assuming a translation from Italian, is neither pedantic nor patronizing. They don’t dumb it down. It’s not a scholarly work, you can read the text in an hour, but the writing is very good, and they don’t shy away from polysyllabic words when appropriate.

The features, however, make the app accessible to all. You don’t need to be a book-lover to enjoy it.

Virtual History - Ultima Cena by Mondadori.it screenshot

The digital elements are chosen carefully to enhance the reader’s understanding of the subject matter, and, it seems, the areas of focus were chosen to show off the features. It’s a perfect blend and makes the reading experience pleasurable.

The app is not about the controversies surrounding the art, Its primary focus is on the fresco, as it should be.

Where they do address Brown’s book, however, they politely, but cheerfully, debunk his theories one by one with brief, scholarly facts.

I’m no expert on Renaissance art or politics, nor do I know much about conspiracies, so I’m not going to editorialize. But, the book doesn’t seem to have an agenda, just an interest in pointing out that there are simple and viable explanations for the mysteries. Call it an Occam’s razor approach.

I would have used a bookmark feature, had there been one, for review purposes. And, my eyes would love scalable fonts or a pinch-to-zoom feature for the smallish text. But, these are small matters; this is still hands down the best book-app I’ve seen.

If you want to peek at the future of digital publishing you have to get Virtual History – The Last Supper. It’s a must-have for iPad and iPad 2 owners. Few apps will make your device look this good.

Want to win a copy? You can enter a drawing for one of two promo codes. Just leave a comment telling me why you absolutely need to have this book. Or, share your opinion of Virtual History – Roma.

For this one I’m going to pick the replies I think have the most merit or insight. This is not just a freebie, it’s a gift I hope you will treasure, and I want it in loving hands.

Contest Closes Sunday, May 29, at 9:00 p.m. PDT. Good Luck!