It’s about time that the Wikimedia Foundation came out with their own Wikipedia Mobile app (available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch in the App Store).  There have been “unofficial” Wikipedia apps for the iPhone available for a while now (Wikipanion, for example) that provide different application interfaces to Wikipedia, with extra features like being able to send Wikipedia links to Twitter (when someone asks you a question they could look up themselves, I suppose) or browse content offline.

Nearby
Nearby. I thought I was in a more exciting area of town…

None of these frills are available in the Wikipedia Mobile app.  It’s basically an application front-end to the Wikipedia Mobile site.  This isn’t a bad thing; on the contrary, its cleanliness and simplicity make it more useful than a more heavily-featured app.  With Wikipedia, the importance is being able to find what you want quickly.

The advantage that the Wikipedia Mobile app has over others I’ve tried is speed.  I was particularly impressed with the speed of the search; it suggests completions even faster than the App Store or iTunes apps, leading me to believe that there is a local cache of search terms.

Unfortunately, the speed does not hold for the “Nearby” feature; at least not the first time I launched it.  This was more than a GPS delay; I was concerned that the app might have crashed.  When it eventually showed signs of life, it did locate me correctly and provided a map (and list) of articles about local points of interest.  I would definitely use it when travelling to a new city.

It’s also possible to search in languages other than English (I tried Japanese), even with the English keyboard, which is useful if you can read another language—sometimes Wikipedia articles from the non-English sites have more detail or different information than the English articles do.

Edamame
Edamame: it's what's for dinner

I’m mildly surprised that the app doesn’t provide any editing functionality—not that anyone really wants to edit Wikipedia “on the go”, but it would be interesting to have the option in the official app, considering the lack of other bells and whistles.

If you currently use the Wikipedia mobile site from your iPhone, this app will enhance your experience without changing what you’re used to.  It’s also perfect for those who only occasionally use Wikipedia.  If you already use another app to access Wikipedia, and you like it, there’s no compelling reason to switch.

Of course, the standard warnings apply: Wikipedia consists of user contributions; citation needed or no, never rely on it as an infallible source.