The CIA World Factbook is arguably the best value for a research almanac, bar none. The Factbook provides detailed information on the geographies, economies, populations, and militaries of more than 250 nations and territories spanning the globe. And all of the information is in the public domain, making it an attractive resource for developers to repackage and sell for the iPhone and iPod touch.
I reviewed two World Factbook apps last year: Western ITS’ World Factbook 2008 ( ) and Tech Lumina’s World Wiki Plus ( ). Since then, at least three more World Factbook apps have appeared in the iTunes App Store.
Since the information in all of these apps is essentially identical (some apps exclude the useful CIA World Factbook appendices), the question then becomes how do the apps present the information? What value do these applications add to data that the user would have little trouble finding with a few taps on Safari? WorldWiki Plus, for example, lets you listen to a country’s national anthem if you have a 3G, EDGE, or Wi-Fi connection—a nice addition you obviously won’t find in a book.
So, once again, user interface is everything.
But the app still lacks the appendices—an unforgivable sin of omission of which jDictionary Mobile’s
The World Factbook ’09 and Real Puppy Software’s
World Factbook are also guilty—and the maps are still too simplistic (although rendered at a much higher resolution). What’s the point of adding landscape support if you can’t zoom in and out of the maps?
On the positive side, you can bookmark entries and each page is broken down by category. And the app incorporates Google Maps, which is an inventive way of letting users explore a country’s geography. I found, however, that the maps were very slow to load. (Naturally, the Google Maps feature requires an Internet connection; otherwise, the app functions just fine offline.)
And the app’s “search” feature isn’t a proper search so much as a browser enhancement: Tap the search button at the top of the screen and up pops a scroll wheel featuring the article’s subsections. That makes it easier to scroll through to the information you are looking for about a particular country—the agricultural output of Bolivia, say—but it isn’t helpful if you want to search the entire Factbook.
Fuzzy Peach adds even greater value to this $1 app with a section that ranks countries in order drawing on a wide range of data fields, from population growth rate and fertility to the number of mobile phones and Internet hosts. (The United States, by the way, is on top of the world with 316 million hosts, more than double the number of the next nine countries on the list combined.)
Alas, Fuzzy Peach’s effort with 2009 World Factbook suffers from two notable flaws: You cannot alter the type, which is quite small, and there’s no landscape support. Users might be able to live without the landscape, but the typeface really needs to be adjustable.
The CIA World Factbook remains one of those indispensable reference works. But, so far, there is still no indispensable World Factbook app.
The World Factbook apps from Western ITS and Fuzzy Peach are compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.2 software update. Real Puppy’s app requires the iPhone 3.0 update, while jDictionary’s offering runs on the iPhone 2.x software.
[Ben Boychuk is a columnist and freelance writer in Rialto, Calif. Feel free to e-mail him.]