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Ken Burns' first app lets you explore American history on your iPad

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Ken Burns iPad app
Ken Burns iPad app

Over the years, legendary documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has put out a lot of movies — but now he's released his very first app, which lets you explore his work on American history in a totally new way. Called simply "Ken Burns," the iPad app isn't a movie itself, but instead a collection of clips from past films. What makes the app so engaging is the way these clips are arranged — you can view them chronologically, through a timeline, or via a series of playlists each centered in a particular theme, like race or art.

"What is so exciting to me about this app is the opportunity to pull back and isolate some individual stories and connect them with other moments from other films," Burns says in the app's introduction. Burns has spent decades chronicling American history, and his enthusiasm shows through a number of introductory clips that are sprinkled throughout the playlists. When Burns introduces a brief clip of Louis Armstrong performing in Copenhagen, he really makes you understand just how important it is.

The clean design — courtesy of Brooklyn-based design agency Big Spaceship — is easy to navigate and intuitive, and it's just fun to swipe around and zoom in and out of the timeline, seeing clips float past. You can also view clips arranged by film, and the app provides links so that you can check out movies like Dust Bowl on services like iTunes and Netflix.

The app itself is free to download, but that will only get you access to one playlist, "Innovation." For the rest, you'll need to drop $9.99. Burns also tells Wired that more content is coming — he's working on several films at the moment, and clips from these will be added as the movies are aired. You can grab the app now from the App Store.