Wikipedia is one of those services that’s incredibly valuable to me. I’ve been using it for so long that it feels seminal to my experiences on the Internet — although I know I’ve been online longer than Wikipedia has, I don’t remember a time when Wikipedia wasn’t around. (Maybe that just means I’m too young.)
I’m always on the hunt for new Wikipedia apps. The service has an interface that, while it works on mobile displays, it could certainly benefit from the native UI and experience that an app could bring. This is why I was so interested in checking out Wikipanion Plus. It’s the first Wikipedia app to get an iOS 7 design, and I wanted to see what I was missing out on. Read on to find out what I think about the popular Wikipedia app.
iOS… Wait, What?
Wikipanion Plus and it’s free sibling, Wikipanion, have both been updated with a brand new interface for iOS 7. I need to clear this up right away: I don’t think it’s all that impressive. Having used Wikipanion before, I can’t really say if it’s better or worse. It’s improved in all the wrong ways.
Wikipanion’s biggest problem, to me, is pretty simple: it looks just like the Wikipedia website. There’s nothing to make it stand out in a crowd, and no real interface reason to use it over the website. With the iOS 7 update, this problem is mildly fixed, but I wouldn’t describe it as cured.
Wikipanion’s update enhances the app with some darker colours (instead of silver, it’s more like “midnight black”). The key functionality is that all of Wikipedia’s core features are a tap away, and a couple additional features are thrown in.
The interface works well in both landscape and portrait, but using it in landscape — even on the full-sized iPad display — reveals that Wikipedia really isn’t meant for these mobile devices. Nothing about it appears optimized, and with the navigation sidebar, the content feels a little squished. Portrait feels like the only way to go, even if having a large navigation pane can be handy.
Wikipedia’s problems are a little more nuanced than Wikipanion (with many stories available about their management woes), but the website’s layout is doubtlessly one of them. Although it remains familiar and hasn’t changed much in ten years, it also hasn’t aged all that well. It’s a shame Wikipanion doesn’t do much with that layout, because it makes their app look a little cheap.
A cheap app wouldn’t be a problem if the app was cheap, but it’s $4.99 for Wikipanion Plus. The regular Wikipanion app is free, but it doesn’t offer any of the extra features that Wikipanion Plus has. If you’re looking for a premium experience, then Wikipanion Plus is what you need.
Those Extra Features
Speaking of those extra features, though, what is your money actually getting you? Basically, Wikipanion Plus comes with a Queue mode that bears some discussion. In reality, Queue mode is a sort of Read Later service for Wikipedia, built straight into the app.
Not unlike Read Later services like Instapaper or Pocket, any links you add are available to read offline with a quick tap. Sadly, this isn’t an automatic feature. The developer brags that you’re able to reorder items in your Queue, and that long tapping on the Queue button automatically brings up the first article. The game they’re playing is about speed.
And it’s true that Wikipanion Plus is very quick. It’s not just fast at loading pages in your Queue, but it’s fast in general. This is because the app has a direct connection to Wikipedia’s servers for quick queries. I haven’t heard of a Wikipedia app that doesn’t have this feature, though, so I’m not sure really is an inherent speed advantage to be had. I do know that the free Wikipanion app has the same connection to Wikipedia’s servers, so purchasing the $4.99 Plus option isn’t anything special — especially since most of these Queue features now exist in the Reading List in Safari.
Other Standard Wikipanion Features
Wikipanion and its premium sibling both ship with a dictionary feature that allows you to quickly look up words in Wiktionary. This is a handy feature for people who don’t have a dictionary app installed on their iPad, but I’m not convinced it’s a fast one.
Both apps have bookmarking and location-based features. There’s basically an omnipresent option to quickly search for location-based features that’s kind of neat, but also not anything that I haven’t seen with better implementations in other Wikipedia apps.
Finally, the developer does allow you to choose whether you want to read articles with a Serif or Sans-serif font. The choice is nice, but neither font is particularly special. (I believe the Serif typeface is Georgia.) I’ve elected to turn on Serif typography, because I believe reading on a Retina display should feel similar to reading a real book or magazine.
The free version of Wikipanion is a fine app, but Wikipanion Plus is an abysmal return on your investment. The app offers almost no features that competitors don’t do better. Its interface is largely uninspired, and although it takes advantage of some of iOS 7’s design inclinations, it doesn’t seem to put a focus on content in the same way that some of its iOS 6-leaning competition already does.
If you’re in need of a great Wikipedia app, Wikipanion Plus is not for you. I wish I could recommend it, but it’s a middling entry that feels almost completely irrelevant. My personal Wikipedia app recommendation was and continues to be Articles, which I believe offers a superlative experience on the iPad. Wikipanion Plus is a stable, well-made attempt, but a completely trivial and uninspiring app nonetheless.