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.
This article reviews, in no particular order, a few of the reference titles I found most impressive. All are available for the iPhone or iPod touch running verson 2.0 or later of the OS.
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. Using this reference will not only expand your vocabulary, it will give you a greater understanding and appreciation of how words relate to one another.
Oxford Deluxe—ODE & OTE with audio
- Richard Northcot
- Enfour, Inc.
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. It’s great to have the Study Cards apps on a portable device—they’re in your pocket when you need them! Each app in the Study Cards series is self-contained.
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. This program is self-contained, but offers one-touch Web integration that allows you to quickly access some of the best online Chinese/English resources.
HippoDict Chinese English Dictionary
A lot of facts, figures, and formulas are associated with chemistry, and even experts have to access a reference book now and then. This app not only gives you nearly instantaneous access to all the pertinent details about any element, it also lets you doublecheck manual calculations with its built-in calculator. The full Periodic Table is displayed in landscape view, as shown above. Unfortunately, selecting the correct element from this screen can be a little trying because the squares that represent them are tiny. Fortunately, elements can also be searched for by name, symbol, and atomic number. Once you find the desired element, the program displays details about the element. This is a self-contained program requiring no Internet connection.
Periodic Table and Chemistry Calculator
Since I discovered Quotationary, I’ve retired my copy of The Great Quotations by George Seldes. Whether you want to provoke thought, entertain, or inspire, Quotationary is a great resource. It allows you to quickly search for quotations by the author’s name, the subject discussed, or a specific phrase. You can also use the Trivia option to display random quotations. I did notice a few grammatical errors in the quotations. Also, I would have preferred that it included the date of the quotation. Otherwise, Quotationary is a useful portable reference program. The developer informed me that the next version of the program will “read” the quotation back to you. It should be available by the time you read this review. Quotationary is a self-contained program that does not require an Internet connection.
- Michael Thomason
I was never a frequent user of Craigslist until this application came along. CraigsHarvest makes navigating and finding Craigslist postings a snap. It allows you to quickly locate and save preferred searches, and it has an excellent query filter that gives you very specific results. I am still not a big fan of the Craigslist.com Web site because of its minimalist design and unintentional word clutter. But CraigsHarvest makes it much easier to search, which I now do almost every day. CraigsHarvest requires an Internet connection to do the search.
- Another Roadside Attraction, LLC
This application is the first in a series from Atrium Strategies designed to prepare a person for the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) exams. The program contains 150 electronic flashcards that can be clicked through or advanced by shaking the iPhone. PMP-iPrep can also use the iPhone 3G’s GPS to locate the closest Prometric Testing Center in your area. It also includes a timer that can be set to count down the number of days before the big test. The developer plans on releasing more certified exam prep references. This is a self-contained app.
- Justin Hart
Years ago, when I got my first PDA, I imagined a day when I could speak to any person on the planet using a personal language translator. Future Apps, Inc. has nearly fulfilled that dream with its series of iSpeak language translation references, including iSpeak Spanish shown here. The user still has to peck away on the onscreen keyboard to enter the word or phrase, but iSpeak will display the translation and “speak” it accurately. Translations work in either direction (English to Spanish or Spanish to English). The output is very accurate. This is a self-contained app.
- John Stefanopoulos
Scratching the surface
In this article I briefly reviewed what I thought were some of the most impressive reference titles currently available. However, there are plenty of other notable reference titles in the App Store, including Robert Chin’s Wikipanion Plus and Paragon’s Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. As mentioned, there are over 1,300 reference titles for the iPhone and iPod touch. This article barely scratches the surface of the solutions available to you on the iTunes App Store.