Name That App: Encyclopaedia Britannica

**As published in digiday:DAILY** Publisher: Paragon Technologie GmbH Price: $24.99 Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch Advertising: None Functionality: C- Fun Factor: C Overall: C Any app priced at $24.99 is going to be a tough sell. But once a publisher crosses that hurdle, it should strive to deliver a better-than-expected experience. Keeping that in mind, it’s still hard to see how any reference app like Encyclopaedia Britannica could exceed expectations in any environment, let alone mobile. There’s certainly nothing evolutionary or revolutionary in this new app, but it at least gets close to delivering on expectations. The value of any reference app on mobile is purely based on its convenient format (read: digital) and its content that’s been thoroughly vetted by academia. Wikipedia might have more name recognition than Britannica at this stage of the game, but the weight that Britannica carries as a solid resource won’t be bested by Wikipedia anytime soon (if ever). Valuable content aside, the eventual success of this app will depend on whether or not a worthwhile number of users subscribe to that idea so diligently that they are willing to cough up $24.99. My best guess is probably not.

Sure, when I think about how much money that set of encyclopedias my parents bought when I was growing up cost I am slightly amazed that I can now access nearly 36,000 brief entries from Britannica on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Unfortunately, that novelty wore off almost immediately after I started using the app. For starters, the app could really use some help in the graphics department – I haven’t come across a single image or photograph beyond the logo. The opening page of the app is pretty basic (perhaps by design) and it sure left me wanting more in terms of user engagement and thought provocation. Although users are encouraged to shake their device to randomly start exploring the catalog of entries, I didn’t find it particularly useful or educational. And that should be the goal – educate me. In addition to a lackluster search engine, the app’s only other access points are an “On This Day” category, “Favorites” and “About.” The “On This Day” panel automatically pulls each entry that references the current date of use, including dates of birth or death and milestones. By leaving the user with little choice other than the search engine to dig into the content, it’s disappointing that the publisher and developer didn’t put more resources into the execution of search. For example, a search for “Hunter Thompson” and “Hunter S. Thompson” came back with no results and I was shocked. Only after tweaking my queries was I able to find what I was looking for and those successful queries ranged from “Hunter” to “Thompson” and “Thompson, Hunter.” Likewise for World War II – queries for “World War 2” and “World War two” returned a blank page. There’s no technical reason why a student shouldn’t be able to find information on Abraham Lincoln, but they’re not going to get anywhere on this app unless they search for “Lincoln, Abraham” or one of his names by itself. And that’s just counterintuitive on every level.