I downloaded an app for my iPad yesterday that excites me. It’s a version of the Hebrew Bible with some interesting options for those who are trying to improve their Hebrew language skills. One can choose to read the text just in Hebrew, just in English, in a hybrid mode with Hebrew and English side by side, or in a ‘learning’ mode where the text appears in Hebrew, but when you tap a word, a box pops up with the English meaning.
The recent Passover holiday reminded me how rusty my Hebrew has gotten, and following some first-grader-esque stumbles over the words during a reading at my stepbrother’s seder, I have vowed to put in some time to improve it before next year’s holiday. I had fun experimenting with the different viewing options in this app. The pop-ups were nifty, and you could even tap again to see further elaborations on the root of the word and the commentary on it in various concordances. There was even a rudimentary read-aloud feature. Like some of the other functions, it was somewhat clumsily implemented, but I can see the beginnings of an e-learning architecture with real potential.
Oh sure, I hear you saying. I can get the same functionality, more slickly implemented, in both the Kindle and iBooks apps, right? Right…if what you want to learn is English. All of the iPad reading apps are, for now, limiting readers to only the dictionary which came pre-installed! My question is….why? There seems to be no logical reason at all for such a restriction, and it’s a real missed opportunity for taking ebooks beyond just paperback fiction and really using these apps for a type of reading where a techie version might actually be a superior experience over plain old paper. Just tap a word and see its meaning? So simple, yet so handy. And…so forbidden. Why, why, why?
I’ve heard rumours on the Mac forums that iBooks restricts the dictionary to only the one pre-installed because they worry about users picking up viruses. But why doesn’t the iBooks store simply sell its own dictionaries then? The Kindle store does—-I bought a lovely French-English translation dictionary for my Kindle, and it’s revolutionized my reading in French. But I can only use it on the Kindle device itself. There is no mechanism to load it into the iPad Kindle app.
It baffles me; it’s a real missed opportunity. Firstly, it seems to me like it would be so simple to implement. So why not implement it? Why withhold a functionality when you can offer it? And why do so when the functionality in question can be both useful and profitable? Teachers would go crazy over this sort of thing—no more back and forth between a book and a dictionary, between a translation and an original text. Just keep on reading, and tap on the word when you get stuck. And another thing—if it works, and you get people reading in another language, doesn’t that mean you can sell them double the books?
Oh, wait. Nobody sells French ebooks. A missed opportunity once again.