Qwiki, the service that reads Wikipedia articles out aloud for you, has now arrived on the iPad. While the app features a very slick packaging, it’s still hard to imagine why somebody would prefer to hear a robotic voice read these articles out aloud over just reading them.
It’s no secret that I’ve been very critical of the hype around Qwiki. I’ll be the first to admit that the service provides a nice visual experience – especially on the iPad. It gathers image from the base Wikipedia article and articles linked to from there and then displays them in a dynamic slide show. On the iPad, the narration is even relatively good, but just like all text-to-speech services, it quickly becomes annoying.
In its promotional video, Qwiki says that it “combines thousands of sources into beautiful, narrated presentations” and that it’s the “future of information consumption.” In reality, of course, the only sources it uses are Wikipedia and, in the iPad version, Apple’s app store. Qwiki features an “app of the day” section on its iPad homepage, where, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, the App Store itself is today’s featured app.
The app also puts a strong emphasis on maps and location. This is a nicely realized feature, but just like everything else in Qwiki, the emphasis is more on style than usefulness. When you are traveling, for example, are you going to stand on the Mall in Washington with your headphones on to listen to a Qwiki narration, or are you going to quickly read up on the Washington Monument and move on with your life?
The problem here, of course, is that having text read to you is a highly inefficient way of consuming information. In the time Qwiki takes to read you a few sentences, you could easily read through multiple Wikipedia articles yourself.