By Nate Adcock on Mon, 02/20/2012
Among the first apps I reviewed when I started blogging at iPhoneLife way back in 2008 (ages ago, I know) was a dictionary app--Webster's Collegiate (here for the review) from Paragon--and the basic concept then for finding word information was much like the TWIG Touch Dictionary for iPad now. You would start by typing a word into a search box, which would ultimately result in informative word results appearing. The similarities end there however, as to contrast that early app version of Webster's (while effective) with TWIG would be like comparing a Fiat to a Ferrari. The TWIG Touch Dictionary is truly an app worthy of iPad. It's clever use of a mind map-based interface and touch manipulation is stunning, both in terms of innovative design and elegance.
What is TWIG!?
Much like scholars from ages past would treat a treasured paperbound copy or version of a great book with utmost care and respect, the TWIG Touch dictionary might inspire you in the same way. It is a joy to behold and use, and must insist that it is on a level with many of my favorite apps (Google Earth, Redshift, Intellicast, Solar Walk, etc.). The app is very well done, but the slick animations, optimized and intelligent word search, and other great features come at a price. $34 and change, and nearly a gigabyte in space, not to put too fine a point on it. Which means you might want to grab this one via iTunes on your home machine (though I had a strange issue doing so, which I will later relate in the review). If you want a simple word lookup, this is probably not the app you're looking for. TWIG might be an app you gift a particularly well-respected colleague who writes for a living.
When initially launched, TWIG starts out by displaying a reminder to select and open the information menu, which is certainly worthwhile in order to become familiar with the app, but if you have any experience with mind mapping applications you won't need it much. The app is very intuitive. Still, the help index is as good as the rest of the app. The default mode that appears is the Instant Search Scene, which will remain blank until you start typing something in the center text entry field. As soon as text is entered, lexical word, hints and phrase results start to fly-in to the results space below. Before you select a particular result, this spacial representation allows you to move items around, and quickly discover an example usage of a word. This is a powerful way to find not only definitions but related information, and the app builds on this power in the detailed view once an object is selected.
Finding the right word
After tapping on a word, phrase or example from the result set, the Detail Word View kicks in, building a mind map starting at the origin of the word. The information is presented in a family tree representation that begins in the center at the root or origin level of the word. Here you can select to play a pronunciation of the word, and read it's origin. Growing from the center, related uses of the word, and synonyms appear connected by down-level branches that can be expanded or collapsed, dragged and moved around to better view elements on a branch. Selecting the Zoom will quickly take you to a birds-eye view, and back again to a particular spot.
Share the knowledge
You can bookmark content (with comments) and share your word poster mind maps via email, Facebook, or Twitter. A cool way to send your friends a "word of the day", for example. TWIG keeps a history cache of your searches handy for a quick go back, and you can peruse your favs and find illustrated content via the Bookmark pull-down menu. An A-Z type of reference index that iOS users expect.
Explore the word universe!
If the English Language were a universe, you might explore it much like the Random Scene presents it; flying through an expanding list of random items from TWIG's comprehensive dictionary source. Like much of the app, the secret ingredient is as much about the smooth attractive way the content is animated and presented as the content itself. Basically, TWIG even looks good showing you something as potentially boring as random words from a dictionary, and makes you love it.
Well, I must say that this app, being one of the largest code bundles ever to be installed on my iPad, did not misbehave once. For 35 bucks you would expect that stability, but there was a weird double install that occurred, which has never happened with any previous app. After installing via iTunes, and using it for a few minutes, when I re-enabled my WiFi, it weirdly re-installed itself again? This is a probable glitch in iTunes downloads, and should not be blamed on TWIG. When I reported it to the vendor, they even tried to recreate it without success. Plain and simple, I love this app, and wish there were more like it! The price is hefty at $34.99, of course, but the Paragon dictionary version I mentioned in the opener is $24.99, minus the fancy display/animation options. You can find the TWIG Touch Dictionary here in the App Store, or see it in action at the YT link below.
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