Twentieth Century Fox's New Rise of the Planet of the Apes App is Not So Smart

As a marketing tool, though, it’s a no-brainer.

By , Columnist

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Are you smarter than an ape? Because you’re reading this, the chances are that the answer is yes. If you’re not sure, though, you can try out Twentieth Century Fox’s new Apes Will Rise iPhone and iPad app.

The free app has been released into the iOS App Store jungle as part of Fox’s marketing strategy for its upcoming sci-fi blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The film is a prequel of sorts to the classic 1968 film Planet of the Apes that starred Charlton Heston and spawned its own film and TV franchise as well as an inferior Tim Burton remake.

The centerpiece of the Apes Will Rise app is a game based on a test used to study short-term memory in chimpanzees at Kyoto University. In the game a sequence of numbers, starting with 1 and 2, appears at random locations on the screen. After a few seconds the numbers are covered up by small white boxes. The player has to tap the boxes in the right numerical order to progress. Another number is added in each round, making the full order of squares harder to see and remember.

The game has three skill levels: "Easy," "Hard" and "Ape"; the higher the level, the faster the speed at which the numbers are covered up. The "Easy" level displays numbers for the longest time. "Ape" is said to mimic the speed at which a typical primate could play (presumably in a jungle with an iPhone 4). Speed was similarly used in the 2007 Kyoto study in a comparison of apes and college students. The results were not flattering to humans: when numbers disappeared quicker, the apes won.

"No one can imagine that chimpanzees—young chimpanzees at the age of five—have a better performance in a memory task than humans," Kyoto researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa is quoted as saying by National Geographic News.

I tried the game and it is definitely challenging at the "Ape" level. It might be a good way to sharpen up your memory and visual faculties if you reach for it every time you have a few minutes to spare. Contrary to what Fox might have us believe, however, it’s not a test of intelligence (if you really want to find out if apes are smarter than humans, sit them in front of a TV with only two channels - one showing The Bachelorette and the other Stargate Universe - and ask them to choose which one to watch).

For Fox the app is a fun way to get people into theaters to see its Planet of the Apes movie. The apes’ intelligence angle relates to the crux of the film: a crazy scientist’s foolhardy attempt to improve ape smarts. In addition to offering the game, the app also gives you access to content about Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This includes a trailer and a YouTube channel dedicated to the film. If you can remember the order of the numbers on your credit card, you can also use it to buy tickets to the movie.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes will be released in theaters on August 5. The app can be found at the film's official site.

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Michael Simpson is a freelance writer, editor, presenter, researcher, instructor, gadget freak and sci-tech consultant based in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Formerly from the UK, he’s converted from tea to coffee and written and presented on film, TV, science, nature, technology,…

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