July 21, 2010

Language resource apps for the iPad

Bruce D. Popp
I have an iPad (which I use a lot and like enormously; I never got an iPhone) and I've been looking at French-English language resource apps. Here's my review of what I've seen, including one bright spot and starting with my conditions.

In looking at apps I want iPad apps; iPhone apps work on an iPad but don't look any better than they do on an iPhone---they still use a small window and tiny keyboard, which are the two leading reasons (I have more) that I never got an iPhone.

For bilingual dictionaries, my standard references are my two workhorses: The Collins-Robert Electronic French Dictionary which says it has "over one million translations and includes some 120,000 entries" and the paper Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary, Third Edition which says it has "over 900,000 words, phrases, and translations," and in another place on the dust jacket "over 360,000 words and phrases, and 550,000 translations." In practical use, I haven't seen much difference in the extent or comprehensiveness of the coverage. Obviously comparing and making sense of these numbers is ambiguous. I would like an iPad app of comparable coverage.

Finally I'm looking at apps on the US iTunes store. (To make iTunes purchases, the billing address for your credit/debit card must be in the country corresponding to the store.  There is a France iTunes store, but I am unable to make purchases there.)

So here goes:

Monolingual French
Here's the bright spot:
The app name is Dictionnaire, the icon is a book with a brown cover, yellow "D" on the cover and a "bleu, blanc et rouge" bookmark sticking out between the pages. The very modest icon goes well with a very modest price of $1.99. But under the modest cover, this is the Trésor de la langue française informatisé in full.  I've only looked up about a half-dozen words, but I've been pleased.  Most other dictionaries have prices closer to book prices, so this price can't be beat. Worth a special trip to the app store.

Le Robert has Dixel for $11.99 but no Nouveau Petit Robert (or Grand Robert). I haven't considered buying it.

Larousse and others have iPhone apps, but I haven't looked at those for the reasons given above.

Monolingual English
I have the paper and PC versions of The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition. It is available as an iPhone app, but not an iPad app. While writing this review, I sent the publisher an e-mail asking if they had a release date for an iPad version, and they replied that it was in testing. The iPhone app price is $29.95. I'm waiting for an iPad version of this one.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged is available in a "designed for both iPhone and iPad" version. The price is $59.99 which seems expensive. I've heard that this edition of Webster's (paper version) is dated and overdue for an update. I'm not going to purchase this one.
(For completeness, I should note that Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition is available as an iPad app for $24.99. This is an abridged dictionary with substantially fewer entries than either the American Heritage or Webster's. I'm not going to purchase this one either.)

For people who work with that other language with the same name but spoken on the other side of the Atlantic, Chambers has an iPad dictionary but Oxford only has iPhone versions.

Bilingual Dictionaries
Collins Pro French-English Translation Dictionary, iPhone $24.99. It says it has "84,000 fully developed definitions for 45,000 headwords". Clearly this doesn't come close to measuring up to my two workhorses (above) and it's an iPhone app.

Larousse English/French Dictionary, iPhone $5.95. It says it has 250,000 words and phrases and 400,000 translations. This is better than the Collins app, but still not up to the workhorses and it too is an iPhone app. The price seems surprisingly low.

Oxford Hachette French Dictionary, iPhone $24.95. It says "over 360,000 words and phrases and 550,000 translations" just like my paper third edition (but without the "Oxford comma"). This meets the standard for coverage, but it is not an iPad app. Again, while writing this review, I sent the publisher an e-mail asking if they had a release date for an iPad version, and they replied, "At the moment we do not have available version for iPad because Oxford University Press has still not licensed rights to publish on iPad to any software publisher."

French-English Translation Dictionary by UltraLingua, iPad $19.99.  I don't know anything about Ultralingua. They say they have "over 85,000 headwords and 270,000 definitions". Numerically better and cheaper than Collins and it is an iPad app, but it falls short of Larousse, Oxford Hachette, and my expectations.

Harrap's Unabridged English <-> French Dictionary, iPad $29.99. It says its dictionary database has over 137,000 entries. So, this too seems to fall short of my expectations.

If you like iPhone apps, you have good options. On the iPad the TLFi is a bright spot; otherwise, I'm waiting for better options to become available.


  1. Thanks Mr, Popp. I am in the market for an Ipad French English Dictionary and I agree it may pay to wait a while. Your survey saved me a few steps. Meanwhile in regards to the Monolingual French category, you should check out Antidote Ardoise, an Ipad app, multifaceted and, dare I say, quite beautifully laid out. A little more expensive than your pick, but it may be worth it.

  2. Regarding making purchases at iTunes France, you can do so with either a French credit card and address, as Bruce notes, or using a iTunes gift card bought in France, which you can get at many stores and then use a French address (make it up? they don't check) when setting up your French iTunes account once you are back state side. For the French iTunes account, be sure to use a different user name than what you use for your US-based iTunes account.

    Thanks, Bruce, for this great article! I plan to get an iPad eventually and will consult your article again at that time.


  3. Any updates, now that it's December? Thanks for the review!

  4. Thanks for such a thorough review Bruce!

    I'm not as patience as you so I've bought a few apps that I find very useful. The coverage may not be as extensive as the workhorses you cited but the prices are more reasonable and they are ready for iPad.

    Multi-Lang Google translator for words or sentences but requires connection. Ascendo French English Dictionary, offline with nice annotation feature. French Verbs conjugator by Yminds.

    Keep us posted when you make your choice.

  5. The OUP/Hachette app - which I found enormously useful and much better than its Collins and Ultralingua opposite numbers - appears to have been discontinued (as indeed do all of Oxford's language dictionaries except English and Russian! Do you know anything about this? It seems astonishingly short-sighted if they've decided to stop publishing to iTunes: people are far less likely to buy paper dictionaries in the future for travel purposes and these apps gave one a 2-volume dictionary in one's pocket!


  6. Very helpful! Unfortunately, I found this review too late, after doing quite a bit of research myself, but I do not have anything else to say. As far as bilingual dictionaries go, the situation is strangely sad. Ideally, I would love to have a dictionary which can automatically look up the words in the text when I point at them, but it seems that even a regular dictionary is not there yet...