iPhone Gems: Wikipedia Apps
One of the great advantages of having an iPhone or iPod touch with such ubiqutious Internet access is that it makes a great research tool. Although the Safari browser on the iPhone or iPod touch can allow you to surf to just about any web site and look up information, not every site is well-optimized for display on the iPhone. One such commonly-used site is Wikipedia, and as a result a number of third-party developers have released apps to optimize your Wikipedia-browsing experience, not only rendering Wikipedia in a more iPhone-friendly format, but in many cases adding additional research tools.
In today’s roundup, we look at the plethora of Wikipedia apps that have appeared on the App Store and try to highlight those that offer something more than just a browsing experience.
Wikipanion is available from the App Store in two flavors: the basic Wikipanion is a free app which offers basic online Wikipedia browsing with a number of additional useful features, while Wikipanion Plus ($5) adds a queuing system and offline access to saved pages into the mix.
Both apps share the same standard Wikipedia browsing functionality, and include a number of useful features such as the ability to search Wikipedia and present the results in an iPhone-optimized format, cross-link to additional Wikipedia pages and open external links in the iPhone Safari browser.
Further, any resulting pages can be saved as bookmarks, and bookmarks can be organized into folders, and a history of visited pages is maintained automatically. A key feature of Wikipanion’s bookmarking feature is the ability to bookmark not just the article but specific sections within the article.
You can bring up the table of contents for a given Wikipedia article or bring up a list of other related articles by tapping buttons at the bottom of the screen.
An additional series of options provides the ability to search for text within the current article, adjust the displayed font size, look up words in Wiktionary, lock the orientation sensor and e-mail links to pages or open them directly in Safari.
The font size adjustment simply presents a slider with a bezeled overlay to preview the selected font size as you adjust the slider. Simply releasing the slider for a second or two applies the font size.
Wikipanion works in both landscape and portrait orientations, however another feature that we found particularly useful was the ability to lock the current orientation. This would be useful when reading Wikipedia while lying down, for instance, as you can hold the iPhone or iPod touch sideways and still maintain portrait view.
From the iPhone’s main Settings application, you can adjust Wikipanion’s settings for font size and style, whether live search results are shown as you type, default search language and other enabled languages to search in, and even remove the history and the cache at launch for private browsing.
All of the above features are available in both versions of Wikipanion. For its $5 price tag, Wikipanion Plus offers a few additional useful features for the serious researcher or Wikipedia enthusiast, however.
The two features which differentiate Wikipanion Plus are queuing and offline browsing. The queueing feature, when enabled, allows you to “queue up” links that you tap on, rather than immediately browsing to those pages. To use this feature, simply tap-and-hold on a link and it will be added to the queue in the background and you can continue browsing the current article, adding more links to the queue in the same manner. You can also turn on queueing mode as the default mode, in which case a single tap adds the selected link to the queue and a tap-and-hold opens the link immediately instead. When selecting a link, a bezel overlay pops up indicating whether you have chosen to open the link or add it to the queue.
When ready to go through your queued up pages, you simply open up the queue and visit those linked pages directly from there. Further, you can choose to save pages in the queue for offline viewing either individually or en masse. An auto-save feature is also available to save every page added to the queue for later offline viewing automatically.
The queue feature adds additional value for offline browsing since you can add pages to the queue while offline simply by turning on queue mode and tapping on those links—they will be added to the queue and available for viewing the next time you have an Internet connnection.
As you visit pages from your queued list, they are removed from the listing. If you want to save these pages for later viewing, you must bookmark them first. Wikipanion Plus also allows any bookmarked page to be saved for offline viewing as well, regardless of whether or not it has been previously added to the queue.
Both Wikipanion and Wikipanion Plus are outstanding applications for using Wikipedia, and we particularly like the fact that the free Wikipanion application is not in any way a “lite” version, but rather a full-featured Wikipedia browser in and of itself available at no cost. Wikipanion Plus does not deliver “missing” functionality from the base Wikipanion app, but instead offers advanced features that will be of interest to the serious Wikipedia user, and are very well-implemented and easily worth the $5 asking price. iLounge rating: A
Wikiamo was one of the better free Wikipedia apps that we looked at, providing both bookmarking and history support, as well as offline page caching.
Searching in multiple languages is supported directly from the search bar, and as you type Wikiamo will dynamically return a list of possible search results that you can choose from, rather than simply bringing up the page for the first hit that it finds.
Wikiamo keeps a seven-day cache of all pages visited for offline viewing, as well as a permanent cache of any pages that you bookmark. Bookmarks can also be organized into folders, and a table-of-contents view is available to allow you to quickly jump to a specific position within a given article.
You can choose to retain cached pages indefinitely through an option in the application’s settings, found in the main iPhone Settings application. From here you can also enable or disable landscape view, adjust the font size, choose whether or not to show the search field by default on launch, and enable or disable a “shake-to-shuffle” mode which allows you to choose a random Wikipedia article simply by shaking the iPhone.
Wikiamo also provides the ability to open external links from a Wikipedia article in your device’s Safari browser, and e-mail out a link to the current article using th. Mail application. The Mail button, however, is rather oddly placed in the top-right corner of the Table of Contents menu, making this feature a little bit less than obvious.
About the only real downside to Wikiamo is that some of the buttons and settings are not as conveniently located as they should be. Changing font size and/or locking the orientation sensor requires you to exit Wikiamo and visit the Wikiamo settings page in the main Settings app, and as we’ve already mentioned, the button for mailing out links via e-mail is not in the most obvious location. Still, despite these minor limitations, Wikiamo is still a very full-featured, and most importantly free application. iLounge rating: A-
The first thing we noticed with Eureka (free) was a friendly pop-up balloon exclaiming “Hello!” when we first entered the search dialog box. More than just being friendly, however, this pop-up is also used as an indicator of which language you have presently selected in the application—you can select languages within the application’s settings menu and toggle through these languages by clicking the small globe icon to the immediate right of the search field.
Once you start typing in the search field the most popular results will begin appearing as you type so that you can easily pick the appropriate one from the list.
Articles are generally formatted well for the iPhone screen but while the application does support landscape mode, it chooses to display any summary table at the start of the article off to the right side, similar to the way an article is viewed on a desktop. This format can make it difficult to read, unlike other apps we reviewed which place the summary table in-line.
Pages can be saved as bookmarks simply by tapping the small plus button in the bottom-center of the screen. Rather than bringing up a bookmark save dialog, however, tapping this button simply saves the current page as a bookmark immediately, displaying an animation similar to the delete animation used in the Mail or Notes applications. Bookmarks themselves are sorted alphabetically and include a history folder which can be cleared if necessary.
The Actions button brings up several useful functions including the ability to open the article in Safari, view other languages the article has been written in, view and jump to specific sections, find text within the article and email a link. There is a translate option available as well, however it seems to simply provide the article to you in your device’s native language, and in fact resulted in the application crashing on some of the devices we tested it on, suggesting that perhaps this feature is not yet fully implemented.
From Eureka’s application settings, found under your device’s main Settings application, you can enable or disable supported languages, choose your native language, adjust your font size, enable or disable “shake-to-shuffle” mode and choose how long visited articles remain in your device’s cache for offline viewing.
Eureka is a fairly straightforward app that offers a few unique abilities such as multi-language support and the ability to search within Wikipedia pages themselves—one of only two applications that provide this capability. Unfortunately, it suffers from a slightly rough interface and places controls such as font-size adjustments inconveniently within your device’s Settings menu. iLounge rating: B+
WikiTap is a free Wikipedia browsing app which works as a front-end client to the WikiTap service. Wiki Tap is unique in that it not only provides reasonably good Wikipedia searching and browsing capabilities, but also allows you to view any photos or YouTube videos that have been linked to the article by others as well as allowing you to easily link your own.
To accomplish this, Wiki Tap actually accesses Wikipedia through vTap’s front-end proxy servers, rather than directly to Wikipedia’s site, so any photos or videos you add to a given Wikipedia article are tagged in vTap’s index and available to other Wiki Tap users. Videos can be added by searching YouTube and linking in any found videos, and pictures can be added from your device’s photo library or taken directly with the iPhone’s camera itself. During testing we found that the updates appear to be instant and attributed to you by using the first word in the name of your device as shown in iTunes. A word of caution, however, as this means that accidental uploads are immediately viewable by other Wiki Tap users. When viewing a photo or video you can rate it and a negative rating does seem to remove it.
Linked videos can be viewed directly on your device—viewing a video simply opens up the built-in YouTube application to play back the video directly from YouTube.
In terms of other Wikipedia-related features, WikiTap provides the expected Wikipedia searching and browsing capabilities. You also have the option to view any page as either vTap’s cached version of the page optimized for lower-bandwidth connections, or the original Wikipedia page formatted for the iPhone display. A table of contents is available for the cached version of the page.
You can also e-mail a link to any given page to anybody in your contacts list. Unfortunately, WikiTap only provides you with your contact list to select an address from—it does not allow you to enter an e-mail address directly. Further, the links are not sent out from your own e-mail account or the iPhone mail application, but directly through vTap’s servers from a generic server address, and include a link to the WikiTap version of the page on vTap.com, rather than a link directly to Wikipedia.
WikiTap also provides one other interesting feature with relation to Wiktionary: When looking up words, a speaker icon appears on the screen which can be used to play back a spoken version of the word to assist with proper pronunciation.
Ultimately, WikiTap’s most useful feature is the ability to share videos and photos relevant to various Wikipedia articles across a community of fellow WikiTap users. Beyond this, it offers little of interest for the serious Wikipedia researcher, with no capabilities for features like bookmarking, offline viewing or even landscape orientation. For a free price tag it’s definitely still an interesting application and worth a look, however. iLounge rating: B
Quickpedia (Free) provides a familiar interface, not unlike other native iPhone applications. The application opens with the search window which displays your history at the top of the list. Searching is crisp and results are nicely formatted.
An options button allows you to erase the search history and cached data. It also allows you to enable an ABC order translucent keyboard.
Additional buttons at the bottom provide quick links to Featured, Popular and current News articles. Further, a “Nearby” button allows you to use the GPS in your iPhone to find articles relevant to your current location.
Tapping an options heading which is found at the beginning of each article provides options to adjust font sizes and send the article out via e-mail, either to a friend or automatically to your own address as specified in the application’s settings.
Unfortunately this application does not provide any ability to bookmark articles within the application itself, although the “Send to Self” feature can be used to e-mail interesting articles back to yourself, this is a poor substitute to being able to actually save your pages for later reference within the application itself. In addition we found that it would occasionally crash when viewing images. Hopefully the author will add better bookmarking and history features in the future but overall this application is a straightforward app which does the job for users who simply want to quickly look up information on Wikipedia, and the integration with the GPS for location-based data is a nice touch. iLounge rating: B-
Kiwi ($1) is a basic Wikipedia search app with a nice polished user interface. It offers decent searching capabilities, providing a list of possible matches rather than simply jumping to the first hit, as well as search history, bookmark support, and a “Scrapbook” feature.
Rather than automatically caching all bookmarked pages for offline viewing, with Kiwi you must specifically save any pages you want to access offline to your “Scrapbook”—pages marked as favorites and pages in your history list are simply bookmarks to the online Wikipedia articles.
Kiwi supports both portrait and landscape mode for viewing articles, as well as buttons at the bottom of the screen to allow you to either mark a page as a favorite, save the page to your scrapbook, e-mail a link to the page using the iPhone Mail application, or open the Wikipedia page in the Safari browser directly.
No specific table-of-contents menu is provided, although you can of course access the table of content for the article that is provided within the Wikipedia article itself, which is highlighted in-line near the top of the article, with a button to collapse or expand the table of contents.
Kiwi is a nice enough application, but even for a reasonable $1 price tag it does not offer any advantage over similar free applications, and in fact lacks some of the features that are available in these other apps, such as customizable font sizes and control over the orientation sensor. iLounge rating: C+
Wapedia (Free) starts out with a main screen with options to browse by category, see current news, explore interesting facts and pull up random articles. These offer interesting options for browsing and exploring Wikipedia content in addition to simply performing a normal search.
Beyond this, however, Wapedia does not offer much in the way of notable features. Articles may be viewed in landscape or portrait orientation, and a button in the bottom-right corner allows you to e-mail out article links or open them in Safari. However, no bookmarking or history support is provided, nor is there any offline support. Further, while the searching dialog box provides a list of possible results as you type, this is constrained by an annoying bug that prevents you from actually scrolling down to view those results that are obscured by the keyboard—moving your finger to scroll down briefly shows the results, but the list immediately “springs back” to the top as soon as you release your finger. Tapping the search button will show you the complete list in a Wapedia-formatted page, but this is not obvious.
Although the ability to browse Wikipedia is moderately interesting, Wapedia offers no other particularly useful features compared to many of the other apps we have looked at. iLounge rating: C
iPedia ($1) is a straightforward Wikipedia application with several standard features including bookmarking, landscape view and offline reading. When viewing an article the text is formatted for easy viewing on your device. Two icons appear on either side of the search box: an “i” to take you back to the home screen providing the featured article of the day, and a download icon to allow you to save the current article for offline reading.
At the bottom of the screen, bookmark and compose icons allow you to view your saved pages or open Mail to e-mail out a link to the current article. The help icon, located in the bottom right corner takes you to an article that provides information on how to find the author on Twitter or submit issues regarding malformed pages.
While iPedia’s interface is nice and clean and the ability to save pages is convenient it does suffer from one serious flaw: When searching, iPedia does not present a list of possible results but instead returns only the first or most popular result directly, relying on you to dig through a disambiguation link to find alternative hits. While this is not different from searching on Wikipedia.org directly, most of the other apps we’ve reviewed return a list of possible results first, allowing you to more easily pick the result you’re looking for. As an example, in our testing we searched for the term “Flashpoint” looking specifically for reference to a TV series. However, iPedia only returned the most popular hit from Wikipedia and instead of being prompted with a list of possible hits, we were instead provided an article explaining the “flash point” of a flammable liquid.
Ultimately, iPedia is an average Wikipedia app with very basic searching capabilities compared to the others we’ve reviewed. iPedia really does not offer anything particularly special for its $1 price tag compared to some of the better free applications.iLounge rating: C
InfoPedia ($2) starts out with a nice opening screen explaining what all the buttons do but because it then goes on to open the last article you were viewing, you hardly have time to appreciate the opening screen.
From here things begin to slide. The application does simple bookmarking and history tracking however these windows “slide” on and off the screen in a very distracting manner. It also provides text resizing but does not provide any support for landscape view. In addition to the standard e-mail button at the bottom, there are buttons for News and Random articles.
However, things get a little strange with the random article feature. Clicking the Random Article button takes you to a random article as expected and from there you can click through to any of the links on that article. However, when you click the Back button at the bottom of the screen, instead of returning to the article you were previously reading, the application instead selects another completely random article. This behaviour only occurs when you start from a random article but it tends to be a very annoying issue which limits the usefulness of the random feature.
Ultimately, for a $2 application, Infopedia provides nothing special compared to most of the other applications available out there. iLounge rating: C
Qwikipedia (free) is the most basic of Wikipedia apps, offering nothing more than a Wikipedia search dialog box and a non-optimized view of the results.
The application does not provide live searching capabilities, instead simply taking you directly to the closest match for your search entry in much the same way that the main Wikipedia search works. External links open directly within the application itself, rather than in Safari, and forward and back buttons are provided to navigate between pages. Two small letter buttons appear in the bottom-right corner that look like they might be related to changing case or fonts, but we were unable to make these buttons actually do anything.
Frankly, we can see little to distinguish this application from simply using the built-in Safari browser to look up information on Wikipedia, and are not entirely sure why anybody would bother to take up space on their device with an application that offers no other benefit. iLounge rating: C-
WikiPDA ($1) is a very basic Wikipedia search application that simply allows you to choose your preferred language and then enter a phrase to search for. Results are displayed in a basic iPhone-optimized format.
Unfortunately, this app has a serious limitation in its search even compared to other similar applications: When entering a phrase, only the most popular result is returned directly, rather than a list of possible results. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the iPhone-converted version of the page does not provide the usual “For other uses…” link that appears on Wikipedia itself, meaning that there is simply no way at all to access any Wikipedia article other than the primary one for a given search term.
Results can be viewed in either portrait or landscape views, and external links will open within the WikiPDA application itself. Beyond this, however, no other advanced features are supported such as e-mailing links, opening articles in Safari, or even bookmarking or saving pages beyond the device’s own page history listing. Like other similar basic Wikipedia apps, this WikiPDA does not offer any noteworthy features, and is in fact constrained by a serious limitation in its searching ability. iLounge rating: C-
Encyclopedia ($8) was one of those apps that we really wanted to like due to its unique approach of downloading a dump of the entire Wikipedia database onto your iPhone or iPod touch for access while off-line—a feature that would be an especial boon to iPod touch users or iPhone users with limited-speed EDGE-based Internet access.
Encyclopedia handles this by transferring the approximately 2GB Wikipedia database to your device over Wi-Fi. Once transferred, you no longer need an Internet connection to look up information—all searches occur from the locally-stored database. While an interesting idea, this suffers from some significant limitations. Firstly, this database is not downloaded from Wikipedia itself, but rather from a static Wikipedia dump file stored on the developer’s web site. Due to apparently limited bandwidth on the developer’s end, you can expect the initial loading time to take anywhere from 4-6 hours, even on a fast Internet connection. Further, you are relying on the developer to create exports of the Wikipedia database for the data to be up to date, and as of this review the Wikipedia data available was accurate up to approximately July 24th, 2008.
Further, the downloaded database provides only the text of the Wikipedia content, presumably to save space. Graphics are filtered out completely, as are any external links—only links to other Wikipedia pages are preserved.
Unfortunately, Encyclopedia has absolutely no features of note to distinguish itself other than the fact that you can load the entire Wikipedia database onto your device. The search options are extremely basic, allowing you to only search for entries beginning with the specified string—for example, to search for Barack Obama, it was necessary to enter “Barack” as the search string—entering “Obama” returned no relevant results. Further, there is no support for features like bookmarking, search history, e-mailing links, or really any other preference options. If you really need offline access to a non-current Wikipedia database and are willing to give up 2GB of your device’s memory, this app might be worth a look, but in our opinion for $8 this application should offer considerably more than just extremely basic search features and an out-dated Wikipedia database. iLounge rating: D
Look Up Wikipedia ($3) is a very basic Wikipedia app which provides the ability to search Wikipedia and display the results in a somewhat iPhone-optimized format, although the results appear to be presented in a left-aligned column on a larger page in that the touchscreen scrolling is not confined to the single column—you can too easily scroll sideways into a blank area to the left of the text.
A table of contents menu is provided, as well as browsing history, however there is no offline page cache (beyond what is presently displayed on the screen at any given time), and no support for landscape viewing at all or the ability to change font sizes, e-mail out links or any of the other features that are available in some of the other applications we’ve looked at. In short, Look Up Wikipedia offers absolutely nothing to justify its comparatively high $3 price tag. iLounge rating: D
In addition to the more traditional Wikipedia searching applications, there are a number of other applications on the App Store which leverage the location-based services on your iPhone or iPod touch and the Wikipedia database to look up information relevant to your current location. These differ from traditional Wikipedia apps in that they generally do not allow you to search and browse Wikipedia, but rather only to quickly find out information and facts about your present location. We have mentioned them in this article for the sake of completeness, but will not be giving them specific ratings as they cannot be compared fairly to the Wikipedia-specific applications.
GeoPedia (Free) is the most basic of these location-based Wikipedia apps. In fact, it’s almost not really an application in and of itself. What GeoPedia does is simply acquire your present location when you run it, and then hand you off to an iPhone-optimized web page in Safari listing results relevant to your current location.
Next Wiki ($3) not only gathers information from Wikipedia on places near your present location, but also offers an interesting feature which allows you to find people who are mentioned in Wikipedia articles for those places.
WikiMe ($1) takes a similar approach to GeoPedia, listing interesting places from Wikipedia that are near your current location, except that instead of simply sending you to a web page in Safari, this app is self-contained and provides the ability to browse Wikipedia from directly within the application itself. Further, in addition to using location-services to get your present location, WikiMe also allows you to search for any other location be entering the postal code or country code. Further, locations can be bookmarked and you can customize how large of a search radius to use and how many results to return.
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