It occurred to me today, so long as I again have access to the web version of Encyclopedia Britannica, to check whether Britannica has an app for the iPad–and lo and behold, it does. It was just recently introduced.
The app is a speed demon on iPad 2. I suffer a weak wi-fi connection when I’m upstairs, so the app might take a minute or two to churn through the Britannica database when searching for an article like “Middle Ages.” The search results list the main article and mentions of the search term in other articles. But once the results are listed, touching “Middle Ages” brings up the article lickety-split. Investigating hyper-linked terms within the article is also super-fast. After clicking on an intra-link and reading the other article, which is retrieved very quickly, one can then very quickly return to the original article by touching the BACK button that is standard in many iPad apps.
You know, when I was a kid, we didn’t have any of this sort of thing.
The app is very slick in exploiting the iPad platform. And of course the mammoth and venerable content is there. Two bucks a month is a great price for anyone who even occasionally wishes to peruse the lengthy and scholarly articles. (The best deal I could get for access to the web version a few years back was $5 a month.) Wikipedia has its uses for quick-and-dirty research, especially when it covers topics that Britannica does not. But Wikipedia has a chronically unfinished quality and is hampered by editorial politics and a sometimes debilitating insistence on “neutrality” (rather than objectivity); and it’s the luck of the draw whether a Wikipedia article is clear, well-written and informative or opaque and slovenly.
Britannica articles are, let us say, better vetted. Continuing access to the content via the iPad app is not free (the app itself is free), but two bucks a month is as close to free as it’s ever going to get. Certainly, that’s a better deal for most students and auto-didacts than print volumes that cost hundreds of bucks, cannot be regularly updated over the cyber waves, and cannot fit very comfortably into a backpack.