White Park Bay Software’s Oxford Reference Dictionaries in Review

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Oxford is not only a strong name in language dictionaries; its influence extends heavily into reference titles that can be found online or at your local book shoppe in both hard and paper back editions. UK-based White Park Bay Software (WPB), have brought 11 pivotal references to the App Store. The set includes: Music, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Finance and Banking, Concise Medical, Computing, Chemistry, Business Management, Biology and Accounting. Each shares a similar GUI, navigation and content display system and work consistently with the iPhone design ethic, but at the high price of 14.99$ per app, is the content worth the cost?

Features of WPB’s Oxford Reference Dictionary set include:

  • Email dictionary entries to friends and colleagues, or to yourself as a reminder
  • Unique “Frame in Frame” feature when viewed in the Horizontal plane, allows you to view both ‘Index’ and ‘Definition Entry’.
  • DictionaryApps search engine allows you to find the entry you need, quickly and effectively
  • No internet connection required! Simply download once and the dictionary is ready to use anywhere and anytime at no additional charge.
  • Bookmark unlimited entries
  • Keep track of your search history logging your last 100 searches for a handy review

*Since this feature-set is inherent to all apps in the series, I will approach this review in umbrella fashion, covering usage, rather than content (which is the same as the print editions).

The 11-app library which WPB have published is a collection of widely-recognised references which are written by famous scholars and compiled in Oxford’s concise, effective English. Similarly, the iPhone’s GUI is spared, making it easy for users to transition to and from the suite without having to learn new instructions. Even in non-game apps, graphical prowess is nearly indispensable where long lists of data are constantly rendered and accessed. WPB’s Oxford series handles lists with quicklooks at definitions in spades. Scrolling is perfectly smooth, entries are easy to access, and, are uniquely garnished with subtitle information for quick differentiation. Entries are blue and definitions in grey; there is nothing difficult or taxing when referencing definitions – I can easily say that for design, WPB have created a superb app that is devilishly quick and clever when indexing.

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If design is nearly perfect, there are some usability hiccoughs that need to be addressed, but for the most part, the series runs quite well. While holding the iDevice in landscape mode, you are able to browse the index (on the left) while checking definitions which appear on the right. For bookworms, this feature will feel right at home; for the rest of us, it will merely be a cleverly simple design choice that benefits the user. Unfortunately, quirks abound too. I have been able to force a certain GUI error without fail – the iPhone’s OS menu bar will overlap the app’s title bar and buttons. To force this error, merely browse in landscape mode, select and entry and without pressing ‘back’, flip your device to portrait. While this error does not much affect use, it is bothersome.

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This GUI error can be forced with a 100% success rate

To bookmark or email an entry, just click on the outbound arrow icon in the upper right hand corner. Bookmarks can be re-arranged by placing a finger on the right and dragging an entry up or down. History can be edited and is automatically updated as you reference more definitions – its implementation is simple and elegant. Unfortunately, each app in this series 14.99$ is devoid of any note-taking feature. Neither bookmarks, history nor entries have this function. To access any sort of note, you will have to email the document to yourself. Reading a review may not hammer home the importance of notes. Imagine reading an entry and misunderstanding a single word. Copy/Paste and research that word in one of the iPhone’s excellent dictionaries, but WPB’s software will not allow that new information to be appended anywhere within their app. Similarly, upon re-opening the app, you are directed back to the search index, but not to your previous entry – a reference app should be more accessible.

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Email functions are for the most part, very well implemented. An entry is copied in its entirety and opened within mail.app once you have pressed the outbound arrow icon and indicated ‘email’. You can add contextual notes, multiple contacts, and, if you want, edit the entry’s definition from within the mail. Again, this is important as WPB do not allow you to take notes from within the app. While nothing feels missing, it would be welcome to have better integration between email and the Oxford app. Once sent, mail does not close and the reference re-launch; you must return to the app, and, of course, re-open the entry.

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WPB have made a very nice suite of reference materials available on the iPhone – there is no gainsaying this fact. However, the straightforward interface is lacking a few amenities that would make the series stand out. Note-takings is one and better email integration, another. But, as references which may need to be opened and closed many times in an hour, no less in a day, the absence of a resume function is more frustrating than puzzling. For 14.99$, you can buy the paperback, add notes, highlight entries, dog-ear pages for quick resuming – in short, WPB’s app isn’t yet a good substitute for printed materials. When this series receives updates to include these functions AND MORE, each app will be worth the 14.99$. The content itself is impeccable, tasteful and cleverly picked – progeny of Oxford, if you will; but it needs a more robust digital engine to make use of the platform and grab more than a Tap from TouchMyApps.

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App Summary
Title:Oxford Dictionary [various]Developer:White Park Bay Software
Price:$14.99App Size:Range: ~2 – less than 10MB
  • Intuitive interface (iPhone OS-like)
  • Responsive Indexing
  • Good email tools
  • Frame-in-Frame mode is excellent – truly the closest experience to printed reference materials possible
  • Cannot add notes to bookmarks, history, or definitions
  • Limited email implementation
  • Entry-resuming upon app re-launch not possible
  • Some GUI errors render top portion of screen difficult to use

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