Review: Wiki-zine on the iPad PDF Print E-mail

It's a fairly simple concept: take Wikipedia articles and present them in a friendlier, more readable format. We're all familiar with magazines: the colourful elements, eye-pleasing design and stylised layouts all add a little something that makes it a more casual reading experience than, say, a newspaper.

With this in mind, Cooliris – responsible for the infinitely cool 3D wall image browser of the same name – went about finding a way to present the technical, jargon- and reference-filled articles of Wikipedia in a magazine-style layout.
 
The result is an iPad-only app called Discover. Fire it up and Wikipedia's featured article of the day is used as the cover – cleverly reformatted if you're holding the iPad in landscape mode, as most magazines don't have this as an option. But this isn't just for looks, since each layout has different functionality.
 
In portrait mode it appears as a conventional magazine cover. Masthead, photo and coverlines. The photo and main coverline are associated with the featured Wikipedia article, while smaller coverlines at the bottom link to articles on current events. From this view, swiping to the left will page over, and show the Wikipedia photo of the day, while another swipe shows a third page – a pointless plug for Cooliris' other app.
 
Landscape mode has a similar layout, with the main change being the addition of other articles (instead of current events) shown as the additional coverlines.
 
Tapping on an article link from either view loads it up, as expected, in a paginated format. In portrait there are colour accents for the pages, depending on the theme of the article: articles on nature have a green accent, technology is red, entertainment articles are orange, etc.
 
Annoyingly, though, certain articles get completely custom themes – sometimes not for the better. One of these custom categories is 'people'. Load up an article about an actor, sportsman or politician, and gone are the clean magazine lines. Replacing them is a garish collection of swirly borders, a faded paper background and stylised typeface for the headlines. It's like reading a Victorian diary.
 
Thankfully, there are other features to make up for this visual atrocity. For instance, the best bit about spending time reading Wikipedia articles is clicking through to related articles or other terms usually linked in a write-up. Discover goes one better by making it possible to highlight almost every word. Once selected, either a dictionary definition or a short Wikipedia description pops up for that word. These links can also be followed to read full, related Wikipedia article.
 
Navigation within the app is simple. Articles can be paged through using left and right swipes. Swiping up will bring up an entire browsing history, allowing you to track back to the cover for the day. Swiping down brings up the keyboard and a search box, to search for more articles.
 
There's a bit of inconsistency in the search and history functionality, though. Depending on the iPad's orientation, you'll see different sets of information. Yes, running in portrait mode will prompt you to 'Rotate iPad to landscape to see all articles', but this is unnecessary. It's not always convenient to rotate the device, and there's no reason not to offer the same functionality in either view. Hamstringing one view, forcing users to constantly rotate the iPad, is a usability nightmare.
 
Quibbles aside, it's still a great experience to read articles in Discover. With a bit more polish the developers can have articles loading faster, improve the selection of layouts and standardise the navigation. Even then, it's a free app, and we can't really complain about that.
 
 
IN SUMMARY
 
Good: User-friendly browsing; word highlighting; intuitive navigation 
Bad: Inconsistencies in navigation; ugly theme layouts for some articles 
Rating: 8/10 
Price: Free 
Contact: http://www.cooliris.com 
Tested on: iPad 
Genre: Reference

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