Merriam-Webster Pocket Dictionary for iPod
Although Apple has yet to open the iPod to outside applications, a few enterprising folks have figured out how to use its Notes feature to present their text on iPod screens. A company called iPrepPress offers several text reference guides, one of the most compelling of which is its new rendition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It contains a considerable number of definitions for you to navigate on the go yet takes up only about as much disk space as a single song.
Installing the iPrepPress Merriam-Webster Pocket Dictionary is easy, the instructions are straightforward, and the program will set you back only $9.95 (for the time being, at least--that's the introductory price). According to the licensing rules, "Copyright restrictions do not allow coping [sic] of the same program to multiple iPods. You can copy a file only up to three times to the same iPod in case of damaged or lost files." However, there is no DRM (digital rights management) protection, so once you have the dictionary folder on your desktop, you're technically--though not legally--free to drag it on to any number of iPods, as long as they're enabled for use as an external hard drive. That said, most households don't have more than three iPods, so you should be able to stay within the license easily.
Dictionaries commonly contain between 200,000 and 600,000 words, but iPrepPress's version includes only 40,000. Still, navigating those on an iPod's screen represents a formidable challenge. It'd be tiresome to enter entire words using the scrollwheel in order to search for them, so iPrepPress wisely elected to slice the dictionary into more easily navigable chunks. Scroll to a letter and select it, and you're presented with a list of alphabetical parameters (for example, a-accelerate, accelerator-actuary, actuate-aerie, and so on). Select one of those, and you get a list of words falling within that range. One more click gets you the definition. For some reason, the iPod's normally accelerating scrollwheel doesn't speed up when scrolling through word lists, which was the only performance slowdown we encountered.
While it's impressive that iPrepPress managed to condense much of Merriam-Webster's content into only 3.3MB of disk space, we think the company could have afforded a bit more detail. On the iPod version, bumblebee is defined as "a large hairy bee." The online version has more heft: "Any of numerous large robust hairy social bees (genus Bombus)." Plus, the little speaker icons on the Web site that let you hear a pronunciation didn't make it into the iPod version, even though the iPod's Notes feature is capable of linking to stored sound files. Instead, iPrepPress includes a guide to interpreting the phonetic pronunciation included for each word. You also get a short style guide that covers punctuation, italics, capitalization, and the plural form.
If you're near a connected computer, m-w.com is a vastly superior option in terms of both depth and interface; and unlike the iPod version, it's free. But if you find yourself needing to look up words on the go, the iPrepPress Merriam-Webster Pocket Dictionary works nicely in a pinch.
iPrepPress has announced similar titles coming later in 2006: Pocket Thesaurus, Rhyming Dictionary for Song and Hip-Hop Writers (nice!), and Pocket Atlas. Other current titles on the site include SparkNotes study guides to commonly studied literature; preparation programs for the SAT and other tests; sports statistics; travel aids; and the rules to various games.