Wikipedia’s new iOS app focuses on discovery, personalization

Wikipedia today launched an upgraded version of its iOS application aimed at helping users better discover content matching their own interests, including both articles and images. In addition, the app has been optimized for Apple’s newer OS and latest iPhones (6s and 6s Plus) with support for 3D Touch and Spotlight Search integrations.

This is the latest in a series of efforts from the organization to make its mobile application something users turn to for more than everyday fact-checking purposes.

In the past, those efforts have included the rollout of more utilitarian features like offline access and mobile editing, as well as an experiment with going social by way of shareable “fact cards,”  which were added last year. (That feature is still supported, but has been made less prominent. You now have to select text to “share a fact.”)

In the latest version, Wikipedia focuses more heavily on finding interesting things to read and personalization. That is, it presents users with a new “Explore” feed that showcases a combination of the top read articles, the featured article and featured picture of the day, random articles, and nearby articles, in addition to those recommended based on how you’ve been using the app previously. These latter suggestions will be related to what you read on the app, the organization says.

In addition, the update includes support for navigating using multi-touch gestures (including swipe, tap and 3D Touch), as well as 3D Touch from the app’s icon on the homescreen. This will let you open search, read a random article, see nearby articles, or continue reading your latest. Another iOS-specific feature, Handoff, is now supported in this release, too.

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Finally, a feature that you save articles to read later, which are also available offline, arrived along with improvements to image galleries and tools to more easily share articles via social media or email.

The extent any of these changes – or those in the past – are having on Wikipedia’s traction on iOS is less certain. The app remains top-ranked in the “Reference” category on the App Store, where it’s usually in the top 15 or 20 (Though, lately it dropped a bit to the 30’s.) However, it’s certainly not one of the most popular “Overall” apps on the iPhone, despite its brand-name awareness.

The problem is that many people don’t think of Wikipedia as a place they want to explore, but rather a place to look something up. And the fact that its web content has been surfaced through Apple’s Spotlight Search since iOS 8 likely satisfies most in need of a quick fact check. Wikipedia is still trying to find the sweet spot in terms of making its iOS app something that would be more regularly launched, but it’s not a certainty that simply rolling out a better “explore” feed will do the trick.

That said, the app is well-designed and highly polished, and worth the download for those who would rather learn something in their free time rather than goof off on Snapchat or Vine. The updated Wikipedia app is live now on the iTunes App Store.

Wikipedia Mobile 5.0 for iPhone and iPad from WikimediaFoundation on Vimeo.