Dec 6th: Pocket Anatomy


pin_rdAbout the Pocket Anatomy app

pocket-anatomy-001For iPad and iPhone

For Mac OS X (OS X)

Both above currently on special for €9.99

Pocket Anatomy is an anatomy app for Mac desktop, iPad and iPhone. The core of the app is a fully navigable 3D model of the body, organized as a series of layers from the skin all the way through to the skeleton. Using a simple and intuitive interface the user can navigate between layers. Within each layer, structures of interest are tagged with pins. The pins can be toggled on or off as the user wishes. Tapping on any pin brings up the name of the structure. Tapping on the ℹ symbol beside the name brings up additional information about the structure including key points of clinical relevance. From here the user can also access an audio guide to pronounciation, add their own note to the pin, or bookmark the pin for later access. The app includes an extensive testing module in which students can test their ability to identify pinned structures, locate specific pins on the appropriate body layer, and answer key questions about pinned structures.

Watch this 4.40min YouTube video showing Pocket Anatomy in use.

pin_rdAbout Me

I am Brendan Wilkins, a lecturer in anatomy at NUI Galway located in Galway, Ireland. I was involved in the design and content writing of an early iteration of the Pocket Anatomy app, supervising a group of medical students that worked closely with the company. The work was part funded by Enterprise Ireland through the Innovation Voucher scheme. I am currently using the app with a class of 200 first year medical students. These students are on a five year undergraduate degree programme that will lead to them becoming qualified medical doctors.

pin_rdHow students use the Pocket Anatomy app

Our anatomy programme is centred around cadaveric dissection during compulsory lab sessions. In addition to lecture attendance, students dissect a complete human body over the course of their first year. Within the dissection room students dissect, examine pre-dissected specimens, and engage in other associated activities. We provide iPads within the dissection room for students to use on a shared basis. We also permit students to bring their own tablet devices to the dissection room if they wish.

The iPads are provisioned with a set of resources designed to complement and extend the traditional books and other paper resources we provide for the students. Pocket Anatomy is one of the apps we provide and is the most extensively used app within the dissection room.

As our class sizes are very large (100 students per lab session) only half of the class are assigned to dissect at any given time in a lab session. There are 8 dissection stations and there is at least one iPad at each dissection station for use by the students assigned to that table. There are additional iPads available for use within the room which are not assigned to any specific table but can be used by the students wherever they are needed. At present we are not proscriptive in how the iPads or the apps are used, but allow the students to use the devices and apps as they find best.

At the dissection table Pocket Anatomy is heavily used as an adjunct to the recommended dissection guide. The guide is available in electronic form on the iPads and there is also a paper copy provided at each dissection table. Students consult the guide initially to determine the steps they need to follow for that days dissection. We have noticed that the students then use Pocket Anatomy to ‘rehearse’ the steps they will take in dissection and develop a work plan for that day. As the dissection proceeds the students consult Pocket Anatomy to help identify and name the structures they encounter and tease out some of the finer details of the relationships between structures. They make extensive use of the additional information provided with each pin, particularly the clinical notes. We often observe students scrolling rapidly between layers in the app to establish the relationships between deeper and more superficial structures, before they begin removing the more superficial, again in a form of ‘rehearsal’ of what their next dissection step will be.


Away from the dissection tables, Pocket Anatomy is again the most used app on the iPads, though in a different way. Mostly it is used in testing mode, with students sitting in small groups and testing each others ability to identify pinned structures and answer questions about those structures. This is similar to using flashcards in revision, but the experience is richer and more immersive because of the 3D nature of the model used in the app. To a lesser extent it is used to explore and learn anatomical relationships. Increasingly we notice students with queries about structures first look up the structure in Pocket Anatomy and only if they cannot get a definitive answer there do they go to other sources. We have also observed students transcribing content directly from the app into their own notebooks in the same way that they would take notes from a book although thankfully, most students don’t do that.

pin_rdOther noteworthy uses

There are two other noteworthy uses of Pocket Anatomy in the dissection room. Firstly staff use Pocket Anatomy to explain points of anatomy, particularly in planning and visualizing the next steps in a dissection. This is done either at individual tables, or by connecting an iPad to the AV system (electronic whiteboard and overhead monitors) and broadcasting to the entire room. The ability to annotate and draw on the 3D model is a very useful feature here.



Secondly, in some circumstances we use a small portable LCD projector to project the model onto the body surface of a volunteer. This enables the students to relate surface anatomy to all of the structures present beneath the skin surface. It requires carefully selecting a volunteer of an appropriate size and is only useful in very limited circumstances (male torso, back, upper limb), but is dramatic and memorable when used in this way.




While we have found Pocket Anatomy to be a useful and valuable tool in anatomy teaching, we have encountered some specific limitations. It is only available on Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac OS X) and only around half of the students have such a device. For that reason, we cannot rely on Pocket Anatomy for any individual aspect of teaching, as to do so would exclude those students without an Apple device. When not on offer it is priced at €25, which is above the ‘sweet spot’ price that most of our students will pay. Several students have commented that they prefer to use browser based anatomy apps that are available for free (or are ad supported), rather than paid apps from an app store.

Pocket Anatomy has a well developed set of sharing tools, enabling pins, notes and sketches to be shared with others and so should be ideal for collaborative learning and study. However this requires registering an account and so is of no value to those without their own copy of the app. Furthermore, as the iPads we make available to the students do not have an associated account, annotations and notes made in the dissection room are not available outside of it.

Anecdotally, many students still prefer working with a textbook rather than using apps like Pocket Anatomy. While no single specific reason (other than personal preference) has been given, we suspect that the reluctance to use apps is linked to assessment concerns. Medical students are particularly assessment focused and spend little time on any material not perceived as being immediately relevant to ‘the exam’.


We will continue to use Pocket Anatomy in the dissection room as we do at present. We are considering incorporating the use of Pocket Anatomy in a more structured way in lectures and in producing short video tutorials using the Pocket Anatomy 3D model. However, given the platform limitations we have no plans to require more extensive use by students than at present.

Exclamation markOptional Task

Question: What artery supplies levator labii superioris alaeque nasii?

Using the app, find the answer and tweet it to #12appsDIT. Who will get it right?




49 thoughts on “Dec 6th: Pocket Anatomy

  1. While this may be a very useful app to have (I haven’t used it), I don’t think it should be included in the 12 Apps of Christmas as, according to this article, it will not run on Android systems and it costs €9.99. This may well be worth it but many students are very short of cash and this may be prohibitive.


    1. Thanks. I think I made some of these points in the case study. Unfortunately, when an app is *content* rather than *process* based it is next to impossible to find reputable free apps. There are other anatomy apps which also have android versions. They generally operate on a ‘freemium’ model and are considerably more expensive than pocket body ( I use one for which the full version is currently €49.99).
      Google initiated a ‘body browser’ some years ago which was originally intended to be free. It’s now incorporated in Zygote Body ( which offers some free content but also has a ‘Go Premium’ paid option.
      One particular difficulty with anatomy apps is that many scrape content (text and illustrations) from Wikipedia and other sources. Most of this content is from the 1901 Edition of Gray’s Anatomy and is at best out of date, and at worst woefully inaccurate!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Nora-Anne,

      The purpose of the 12 Apps of Christmas this year is not to recommend apps that can be used in the classroom, rather it’s about showcasing and celebrating work that our colleagues are doing to embrace new technologies and integrate mobile apps into their learning and teaching practices. It is hoped that reading their stories might inspire you to either use the same app like they do, or search and find other apps that might suit your needs better.


    1. We have used it with people ranging from early primary school students through to surgical trainees. Younger children love being able to ‘see’ what’s ‘inside them and where all the ‘bits’ (heart, brain, stomach etc) are. It is a great tool to use (projected to a white board) to teach very basic human anatomy.
      The app is also widely used by medical professionals in patient education. I didn’t mention in the case study (not relevant to it), but within the app there are short 3D animation/simulation videos describing points of anatomy, diseases and disease processes, and surgical procedures. Some of these are free, some are in app purchases. They really help to orient patients as to what is happening/what will be done within their bodies.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. DISCLAIMER: I should really have included this in the case study but forgot. Although I was involved in the development of the app some time ago, I did not then nor do I now have any financial interest directly or indirectly in the Pocket Anatomy app or the company that makes it. I did receive free promo codes for 5 copies of the app some years ago, but those versions are long since superseded. The copies of the app I currently use (iPad and desktop) were fully paid for.
    I think it important that you know that when I recommend the app I am not trying to sell something in which I have a financial interest.
    Brendan Wilkins.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is very intersting app. I specially like the annotation part. It is not from my field of work, and I can not use it. But the remark about students preferring books beacuse of testing make me think about the way that we are changing teaching (and learning), but not the assessment. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very astute observation. It’s not really possible to rely on apps for material that will be summatively assessed unless app is fully cross platform (Android/Windows 10/Linux/iOs/OS X) *OR* students are obliged to own or are given access to a specific device/configuration. Although in theory HTML5 should bridge platforms I don’t know of any good HTML5 (anatomy) apps.
      Looks like books are here for another while anyway. Plus they don’t run out of charge and are fairly robust when you drop them!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating. Although this particular app would not be relevant in my areas of teaching, I think this shows how technology is changing the way that students learn and engaging them much more actively in constructing their own knowledge

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree. What we would also like to map (but haven’t been able to yet) is how students use sharing tools within the app to create virtual study groups, and in what ways students annotate and repurpose content to suit their specific syllabus. I think the strength of apps relative to static textbooks is this ability to adapt the content and share among peers.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This looks like a very good app for biology and health occupation type classes. We are a 1:1 iPad school so this would work for us. Unfortunately it is cost prohibitive for a small school system.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, like all good anatomy apps it is expensive. The company does run some kind of volume discount educational pricing, but I don’t know the details.


    2. Hello Renee, you can check out the Educational Discount available for schools, universities and any sort of educational institution. The process should be pretty easy for your school since you have a 1:1 iPad initiative. I’d be happy to give you more details. C.


  6. I wish I had this app when I was studying the brain all those many (misguided) years ago. 🙂 I love how there is a capability to interact with the app in a more ‘tactile’ way alongside using different modalities to demonstrate the material.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will sound like I am shilling for the company, but they used to have an app specifically for the brain called Pocket Brain. I don’t see it on the website any more so maybe they have realised that neuroanatomy is not that important 😉


  7. I appreciate the expert’s comments regarding the currency and accuracy of free apps. The first learning module on the human body that I encountered is now archived. It is still available on the BBC web site I thought it was marvelous because of the interactive nature and image rotation. I am an instructional designer with no medical background.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This case brings up a great point. Developing for multiple platforms, while more equitable for students, is often not financially feasible. People who are beginning to think about creating an app should seriously consider this early on. It may be better to wait and strive for additional funding, rather than move more quickly and become too invested in one platform.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree totally. It is vital in leveraging technology to improve learning and teaching that we don’t continue to segregate education into the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Love it! Although I work with young students (ages 5-11 years), with their curiosity they would devour many of the pieces of this app. They are fascinated seeing inside the human body and how it all works together. Even though they can’t take full advantage of the capabilities of this app, think of the interest it would spark and how it could impact their future careers. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of the great features is the ability to add your own pins and text associated with those pins. It allows you to customise app content to the group you are teaching. Using these custom pins and bookmarks, you can create a tailored ‘walk through’ of a body system or region at a level appropriate to your students.


  10. Hi I can see the cost issue but I have found it really useful and so would not discount it. I downloaded it to my IPAD and connected it to the AV as suggested and it worked really well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great. I find it particularly useful on an iPad Pro using an apple pencil to annotate (I am hopeless at drawing onscreen with my fingers but would agree iPad Pro / Pencil is hardware overkill). Taking screenshots and using the images in a presentation or just to make a copy of your annotations for distribution works well too. If you use the app ‘live’ in lectures or labs and are scrolling through the layers, changing position etc, you should also consider making a short narrated screencast especially if all your students dont have access to the app. You can do this on a Mac desktop by connecting your iPad and using Quicktime to make a screencast (or Camtasia or whatever you like).


    1. Yes My Incredible Body (Argosy Publishing) do some anatomy intro apps priced at about 4.99. Perfect for middle through high school. Our primary use case is medical students so we need quite a bit more detail. The Argosy versions suitable for our needs start about 34.99 and up. When it comes to detailed, content rich apps it seems you have to be prepared to pay quite a lot – umfortunately!


  11. While I can’t personally use this app in my classroom, I know my science friends who teach in our medical magnet program would love it! The students are enrolled in the program all four years of high school, so having an app that records their data over time would be very helpful.


  12. This app has so many teaching possibilities! I teach in a medical school in the Caribbean and we are planning to introduce iPads as a companion tool for students to use during dissection-this app would be a great resource to add to those iPads.
    I also really like the annotation tool, it could be really useful in lectures as an alternative to the same Netter’s images we have all seen. What happens the annotations when you turn the image?
    The idea of using screencasts edited in Camtasia is also very interesting – i’m currently trying to produce my own 3D model of a skull without a calvaria and mandible for use in an educational video -it is possible to view individual bones or selected bones in isolation in this app?
    Another potential use I see could be virtual spot tests – can you place your own pins and remove all other pins?
    Great work by the way!


    1. Hi Eva. The annotations only work when the model is static. Effectively when you open the annotations panel the model ‘freezes’ in the current view. You annotate and on leaving the annotations panel you are asked if you want to save or discard the annotation. If you chose save, a snapshot of the annotation is saved with the current model view.
      As regards screencasts, what you want to do can’t be accomplished with Pocket Anatomy at present. There are other apps which I also use that enable you to do this. You (or anyone else who is interested) can contact me directly about how to do this if you wish.
      Regarding testing, this aspect of the app is patchy. You can’t directly set up your own pin test (there are a couple of tricks to partially do this). The ‘identify pins’ type of quiz is also unrealistically easy for medical students – the MCQ distractors are completely implausible
      Hope this helps.


  13. Hi, I’m wanting to buy this but when I go to the link, it tells me it is S$21.98 (Singapore Dollar), is the offer only available in the USA / UK?


    1. Hi Nadine. I am not involved with the company so can’t comment on pricing or availability. I do know that there is a 50% discount for educators available through the company website I think in the past they also had opportunities to evaluate the app for free using promo codes. Try contacting them directly and mention that you saw the case study and were interested. They are pretty good people to deal with.


  14. This app might have applications in our AP Biology and Anatomy courses. Specifically, it might be used as a lab that otherwise would not be possible. I do see a disadvantage in that it is only available for Apple products.


  15. This app seems like a great study tool for students in high school and higher ed. However, as my school is using a ‘bring your own device model’, the teacher may have to conduct the the lessons using the app. as opposed to the students being able to use it own their own if they do not have an apple product. Our library does have iPads to lend students, but again this tool would be great for students to use at home as a study aid.


  16. This sounds like a great App. I currently work as a medical librarian and can see the great value in an app like this for medical students. It sounds like what you’ve got working within the limitations of the app price and availability is working but without these limitations their would be so much more that could be done.

    I found your last statement of how students prefer text books to be interesting, I find the same thing is true also amongst the students and clinicians I work with, they prefer books over ebooks or apps with some exceptions to this being clinical care tools such as UpToDate.


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