UPDATE (10:40 am): Deal prices for several of the bundles have changed. The original article will remain below, but updated prices are listed here. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is now $18 (still a great deal) and the Harry Potter anthology is now $60. There are still a few $10 bundles remaining, so be sure to check out all of the deals here.
Apple is currently selling specially-priced bundles of movies on iTunes. At the moment, you can actually buy entire sets of movies in HD for cheaper than the price of buying one of the movies by itself. This deal is not likely to last long, so if any of these anthologies look good to you, you should snatch them up immediately.
I received a comment from one of the developers of Wapedia (one of the Wikipedia apps I reviewed a couple of days ago). She pointed out a feature of Wapedia that I overlooked: it’s very, very fast. Due to the fact that the page is reformatted and re-rendered in a very minimalist style, it loads quickly on EDGE, 3G, or Wi-Fi connections. So, if the most important thing to you is speed and the data, Wapedia is a top-notch download. If, however, you also want elegance and all the extra features, I still stand by Wikipanion. I am, however, keeping a close eye on all the options so that if one app improves beyond the others, I will switch.
UPDATE: Clarified some misconceptions on my part about Wapedia below.
When I first got my original iPhone, I was very excited about the prospect of being able to access the breadth of information that the Internet had to offer from almost anywhere. One of the first web apps that really excited me came from the site Comoki.com. The authors of the site created an app that pulled info from Wikipedia, reformatted it to fit beautifully onto the iPhone, and passed it on to you. It was a marvel of web design and I loved it. Unfortunately, so did the rest of the iPhone community. And, as the community grew, the site got hammered and pounded and decimated. Due to the unavailability of the site most of the time I tried to reach it, I began looking for alternatives, but could never find one with the same simple elegance and ease of use.
And then Apple unveiled the App Store. Soon after iPhone software v2.0 came out, a Wikipedia app appeared in the store. And then another. And another. My quest for a replacement began. There were only a few requirements necessary for an application to succeed in my mind: 1) it must be fast, 2) it must be easy to use, and 3) it must be free.
With these criteria in mind, I went in search of the ultimate Wikipedia app on the iPhone. The following is a true to life story about one man’s journey into the largest encyclopedia in the world.
Wikipanion was the first Wikipedia app I found on the App Store and it was initially very frustrating for me. After using Comoki’s web app, I had grown used to a very unique method of browsing Wikipedia: using disclosure triangles for each heading to reduce the amount of scrolling necessary to navigate the article.
While scrolling on a computer is rarely an encumbrance, it can be very frustrating on an iPhone as there is no way to grab the scroll bar and just move it to the middle or end of a document. However, after spending a few moments with the app, I discovered a button at the bottom of the screen that allows you to pull up the Table of Contents and jump to the various sections of the article. This made viewing large articles a great deal more bearable.
Other great features available in the app that just aren’t available when using Safari to visit Wikipedia are the option to adjust font sizes and search the article for specific words or phrases. Perhaps one of the coolest features, however, is the ability to access Wiktionary from the very same app, and even listen to verbal pronunciations of words found in Wiktionary. Further, it is possible to lock the orientation of the article in landscape or portrait modes, e-mail links, bookmark a specific section instead of just an article, and open the page in Safari (perhaps to bookmark for future viewing on your desktop). Plus, if you click on a link that leaves Wikipedia and ventures out into the rest of the Interwebs, the app prompts you before opening the link in Safari to ensure that you knew you’d be leaving Wikipanion for another app.
There is also a pay version of Wikipanion that adds the ability to queue articles for reading later, as well as offline browsing.
This app is extremely similar to Wikipanion in rendering and interface. So much so, that it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. Some minor similarities, however, can help differentiate the two, and perhaps aid users in deciding if either of the two apps is right for them.
Like Wikipanion, it does an excellent job of allowing you to jump around the article using the Table of Contents. Unlike Wikipanion, searching for a new topic requires you to pull up a search screen with the push of a button (Wikipanion uses a search bar at the top of the article that is only visible when scrolled all the way up, similar to Safari). The push button search can actually be faster than Wikipanion’s as you can press the button from anywhere, rather than scrolling to the top of the article and then tapping the search field.
Bookmarking is also simpler in Wikiamo. Simply press the “plus” button in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen and add a bookmark just like you were using Safari. Viewing the bookmarks is just as easy, and includes a hierarchical bookmark structure just like that of Safari, including a specialized history folder (Wikipanion uses a history tab inside the bookmarks screen, instead).
Wikiamo also includes the feature to warn before leaving the app and opening Safari. E-mailing links from within the app is also available, though no feature to open the article in Safari seems to exist.
However, Wikiamo’s page rendering is not as dynamic as Wikipanion’s. Section headings are not emboldened and therefore can be easy to miss if scrolling through the article. The text size is larger by default, making it easier to read, but since both Wikiamo and Wikipanion can have their text size adjusted, it is only a victory for the lazy. Wikiamo also requires that you go to the Settings app to adjust the text size while Wikipanion allows it from within the app.
In fact, almost every feature available to each application is available in both, but some require returning to the Settings app to adjust. Wikiamo does have its alternative language options available by default. Wikipanion requires you to turn on the specific languages you want to use before it will let you view those languages.
This app is a very unique take on Wikipedia, one that didn’t exactly blow me away. But I highly recommend trying it out, as it does some things that no other Wikipedia app for the iPhone does. Let’s delve deeper, shall we?
To begin with, the app opens to a search screen, just like the apps I’ve talked about so far. However, this particular search screen has four thumbnails on it, each linking to a Wikipedia article that has recently had a YouTube video “linked” to it by a user of the application.
For example, let’s say you look up some information on Sonic the Hedgehog in Wikipedia. Once you’ve found that page, you can then do a YouTube search, playback the video to make sure it’s the one you were thinking off, and then tag it in a fashion that is tied to the article you were just reading. Furthermore, anytime you visit a page, videos appear in a sliding dock at the bottom of the screen that have been linked by other users or have similar keywords to the article you’re viewing. It’s a very unique way to merge Wikipedia and the largest source for videos on the ‘Net.
Another nice feature of the app is that it automatically caches the article you download and reformats it (just like the rest of the apps I’ve talked about). However, you can click a button and switch to the mobile version of Wikipedia if you’d prefer. Once there, however, you lose the ability to pull up the Table of Contents in its own screen (it’s now listed at the top of the article, just like on the website). Otherwise, the ability to mail a link to the page, add videos or photos to the floaty, dock-like thing, and view videos and images already tagged remains.
Unfortunately, there is no option to bookmark pages, or resize the text. Clicking on a link that takes you out of Wikipedia, however, is simply loaded inside the app using the Mobile Safari API that so many apps have developed to prevent kicking you out of their app just to view a link they’d like you to see. So, if you’re looking for a unique Wikipedia experience, this app is a good way to go, but will not provide you with the fullest experience you’ve ever had.
If Wikipanion and Wikiamo are the most robust Wikipedia apps for the iPhone, Quickpedia is a horse of a different color. Leaving features behind for speed and simplicity, this app still manages to provide features that none of the others do (or at least, not obviously).
Quickpedia dumps you straight into a search screen with articles listed alphabetically for your browsing pleasure. A quick search will land you in the most relevant article, or give you a simple disambiguation list below the search field to quickly direct you to the correct article. Once you’ve performed a few searches, they appear at the top of the topics list for browsing and begin to disappear once the live-search kicks in and they are eliminated from a possible search term based on what you’ve entered so far. This makes it the easiest app to return to recently viewed articles.
Once you’ve found the article you’re looking for, it becomes quite clear that Quickpedia took some lessons from the gang at Comoki.com. Instead of a Table of Contents screen, subheadings are listed next to disclosure triangles that reveal their contents when tapped. Unfortunately, in an attempt to minimize the number of buttons on the toolbars at the top and the bottom of the screen, the Options for each page where you you can adjust the font size or e-mail links (again, no option to send to Safari) is a yellow bar that is larger than the toolbars of the application that is located at the top of the article and scrolls out of site as you proceed through the article. Tapping the bar causes the disclosure triangle for Options to turn downward and fill the screen with large buttons to accomplish your goal. If you have a friend or family member who needs large buttons and text to make their use of the iPhone easier, this is an excellent app for them. However, someone with excellent eyesight and fine motor control will do better to use an alternative app.
Quickpedia does have a unique method of text entry for searching that can be toggled on and off (off by default). A translucent keyboard, that hovers on the right-hand side of the screen rather than over the top of the text can help you see a lot more live-search options while you continue to type. Unfortunately, if you’re used to using the built-in iPhone keyboard, this one will only slow you down due to its new arrangement of letters and one-handed usage.
One final point that drags Quickpedia below the competition is that clicking on an external link opens Safari without warning. Thankfully, though, Quickpedia’s recent search list will always allow you to quickly return to your article should it no longer have it cached in the iPhone’s memory by the time you come back.
Perhaps the laziest of the Wikipedia entries, Wapedia.mobi has been around as a Wikipedia portal for cell phones for a long time. In fact, it was the first site I found when I got my first generation iPhone and until I came across Comoki’s web app, was where I went for Wikipedia searches. Unfortunately, the native version of Wapedia is little more than a Mobile Safari wrapped website.
Performing a search query simply loads a search results window and selecting a choice merely opens the Wapedia.mobi formatted page in a slightly re-formatted-for-iPhone style. It does provide you with a Table of Contents screen located in a button on the toolbar, and it also allows you to e-mail a link or open it in Safari. Unfortunately, both options link you to Wapedia’s site, rather than WIkipedia’s, likely in an attempt to spread knowledge of their own site to the world in an effort to reduce the loading time of all pages over slower connections. Images have also been reduced in size for the same purpose (Thanks, Katie, for the heads-up!).
Due to the fact that the page is reformatted and re-rendered in a very minimalist style, it loads quickly on EDGE, 3G, or Wi-Fi connections. So, if the most important thing to you is speed and the data, Wapedia is a top-notch download. If, however, you also want elegance and lots of extra features, I recommend one of the others above.
Eureka probably has the most minimalist interface of all the apps here, which is actually to its benefit. It opens to a blank screen with two toolbars. A search field can be accessed by tapping the magnifying glass icon. Searches are live as you type and a progress bar shows how much of the article has been downloaded when you select the one you want.
Unfortunately, the rendering of the page is exactly as the page appears in Safari. While a button on the toolbar gives you quick access to the Table of Contents, other languages, a find feature, Safari-opening, and emailing, the real nice feature is the ability to find articles in other languages and translate them to your native language. Unfortunately, I could not find any articles in other languages that were not already available in English to test this feature out.
Perhaps most similar to Quickpedia in design and ease-of-use, if you’re looking for a Wikipedia app with a small footprint and straightforward usage, this is probably the one for you.
And now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The winner of this knockdown, drag-out, street fight is… Wikipanion!
While a very close contest between Wikipanion and Wikiamo that could change at any time as the two apps are updated and feature-enhanced, at the time of this writing, Wikipanion provides the most features, and the most useful features are accessible from within the app rather than the Settings app. I feel that either of the two would be very useful, but having the option to get a paid version of the app with offline viewing will be really nice for those with an iPod Touch or traveling in poor signal areas. Be sure to check it out here.
Also, keep your eyes peeled to this spot. When Comoki releases their Wikipedia app, I’ll be sure to compare it to the resident champion and see if it can take the crown.