HippoDict is an English/Chinese dictionary that lets you explore the Chinese language and the beauty of its symbols. My daughter and I spent an enjoyable evening together looking up various words and marveling at the characters that created the words. HippoDict includes a vast reference of symbols and a clean, attractive user interface. The Pinyin reference helps with the pronunciation, but even the slightest inflection can dramatically alter the meaning of a word. The program could be improved by including audio clips to help with pronunciation.
ExamBusters has been around for some time, offering study cards for a variety of subjects, in printed or electronic formats for Windows PCs. They have ported 25 of their popular CD-ROM-based products to the iPhone, including AA+ Geometry Study Cards shown here. The Study Card templates are nearly the same for each subject matter, and the interface is very easy to use. I did get annoyed after a while by the slow flipping of the cards. Still, these collections of inexpensive electronic flashcards are great as tutorials or a quick course refresher.
Enfour delivers the largest dictionary/thesaurus combo available for the iPhone. It includes the complete and unabridged text for the second edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English and the Oxford Thesaurus of English. Like the printed edition, this version contains usage examples and word origins. Unlike the print edition, words can be searched for immediate look up and bookmarked for quick retrieval. In addition, a running history of the words you look up is automatically saved for quick access in the future. The app also includes 44,000 pre-recorded sound files. Everything is self-contained and no Internet connection is required.
A vast body of reference material is freely available online and can be accessed via Safari on the iPhone or iPod touch. Unfortunately, a lot of this material is optimized for desktop computers and is poorly suited to the iPhone’s smaller display and simplified user interface.
Fortunately, reference applications are popular, currently accounting for over 1,300 of the programs listed in the Apps Store. Some of these require an Internet connection, but many are standalone apps that are installed with the data you need. Among these titles you’ll find traditional dictionaries, religious references, language translators, medical references, formula lists, food and drink databases, and much more.
Excellent examples of what the iPhone is capable of are found in the impressionistic works of artist Jorge Colombo. He created his New York City-inspired cityscapes (guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2009/mar/16/art-iphone-shortcuts) using his iPhone and an app called Brushes ($4.99). This app provides you with a set of digital painting tools and requires some skill to use effectively.
Language study is not the only area where the iPhone is likely having an influence on the humanities. Apps like Philosophy – The Essential Collection ($1.99) introduce the student or amateur to the thinking of great philosophers, from John Locke to my current favorite and somewhat confounding writer, Friedrich Nietzsche. I see his “the will to power” as an important concept to help us through these troubled economic times. The Essential Collection comes bundled with the iFlow reader, which works well enough. I think it would be even better if it had text-to-speech capability.
A variety of language translators and phrase books are available on the App Store, but Human Japanese ($9.99) offers a more thorough study of the language. It patiently walks the learner through the vocabulary, provides language exercises, and has an essential introduction to Japanese language and culture.
Feeds has the most attractive interface of any of the native readers. There are options to change its default theme colors, but I’m quite happy with how it comes. Its inline browser is fast-loading and easy on the eyes. The app is fairly solid, crashing rarely, and offers you standard choices of actions you can take on a feed item (star, share, etc.).
Doppler is the most solid performer of all the native RSS apps I’ve tried. It has almost never crashed or hung up during operation. It includes a fairly attractive browser that presents individual feed items well. It also has a good range of action buttons for use with feed items, located along the bottom of the screen. These allow you to share or e-mail the item, open it in Safari, share it with a note, star it, or mark it as unread.
BoltReader also has a plain UI with muted colors and a grayscale look in various places. Its sync routine is divided into two parts: feeds and images. The syncing process is fairly slow, but you can view folders that are already updated while syncing is in progress.