Qwiki for iPad delivers Wikipedia on speed

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I try to keep an open mind when test driving an app for the first time. The 3 main questions going through my mind are – what does the app do? Does it do it well? And, will I use it?  I apply these three basic questions to any app, whether it’s being heralded as the Next Big Thing in the app universe or it’s a humbly obscure offering of the mom-and-pop variety fighting for press attention.

And so I approached Qwiki – which is being pegged as Yet Another Innovative Way to Connect with Information on the iPad.

What is it and what does it do?

First born as a flashy multimedia website in January 2011, the experience replicated for the iPad delivers Wikipedia on speed. After choosing a topic or keyword or browsing through featured “qwikis”, an automatic slideshow with captions begins. You can stop the show at any time, click on any picture to see more or explore related themes. On the bottom there is a preview ribbon for the slides in the presentation and 2 user options – turning off captions or viewing related topics. After the show, you can share or view more on Wikipedia, Google, fotopedia or youtube.

So does it deliver?

Yes, but… While it does play content glitch-free and smoothly, things slide in and out and pop up very quickly, making the default play speed more hectic than leisurely. I would appreciate at least a half-speed mode (like with podcasts in iTunes). Pausing through the whole show isn’t the same. I’d like the option to browse through at my own pace. And contrary to what you might expect – you can’t enlarge photos for a closer look.

The female narrator becomes very charming when enunciating names and places. She said “Austria” with a delayed lilt at the end, “Bratislava” like “brateeslarva” and “Chicagoland” as “cheekagolind”. Cute. But I’m puzzled that there’s no option in the app to mute her voice, as with the web version.

What it does have going for it is the UI is not overloaded and the navigation is intuitive. It’s like a glossy magazine with controls and tools at your fingertips where you feel they should be. I’d give it an “A” for performance and “B-” for execution and design.

Will I use it?

In its current state: sometimes. It will join the other apps in my “browse” iPad folder – which I’ve set up for when I want to immerse myself in a leisurely iPad photo-viewing or light reading session (like Fotopedia Paris or Amazing Sandwiches). But it’s not going into my “read” folder, which has my books and mags apps.

While Qwiki is enjoyable, it’s also superficial. When for example I visit Wikipedia for background reading on films I’m watching, I like to read the plot, related themes or critical reception sections. No space/place for that via Qwiki. You get basic info on a subject compressed into a 1 min slide show, sans juicy specifics. This truncated slice of a subject would not satisfy me personally. But Qwiki doesn’t claim to deliver in-depth topics. Its mission is “to forever improve the way people experience information.” If this means that we’ll get a full interactive version of Wikipedia sometime soon, more power to them.

Qwiki is available on the App Store for free (iTunes link)


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