Examining iPhone and iPad Apps for Students of English or Literature

Lisa Agnew

Examining iPhone and iPad apps for Students of English or Literature

It has been only a few short years since the introduction of the iPhone and iPad. Yet the use of these tools has spread with amazing speed. Doctors are using applications to do research and diagnose diseases, scientists are using them to conduct research, and applications for these devices have given students of English or Literature new and easy “on-the-go” ways to do research and access a wide variety of materials. (Salber, 2011)
According to the Apple website for example:

“There are over 800 universities with active iTunes U sites. And most of these institutions — including Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford, and UC Berkeley — distribute their content publicly. You can learn about the Galapagos Islands or learn a new language. In the Beyond Campus section, you can tour some of the world’s most famous museums or brush up on your leadership skills. Students and faculty can access a wealth of content from distinguished entities such as MoMA, the New York Public Library, Public Radio International, and PBS stations.” (Apple, 2011)

Instead of heading to a library or opening a laptop, as in the fairly recent past, students can now get information almost immediately by grabbing an iPhone out of a pocket or an iPad out of a backpack. While the breadth and depth of information available for research purposes via applications is somewhat limited, there are excellent tools bringing information to students’ fingertips.

There are many interesting applications for English/Literature majors, but four stand out as having unique features or qualities of particular interest to these types of students: The Jane Austen Collection, The Oxford English Dictionary for Literary Terms, Scarab (a literary magazine reader), and Shakespeare or Shakespeare Pro.

The Jane Austen Collection

The Jane Austen application is described as:
Best Collection of Jane Austen’s letters and other works (with search)

Like many literary apps currently available, the Jane Austen one allows users to access volumes of Austen’s works, including letters and novels such as:
  • Love and Friendship
  • An Unfinished Novel in Letter
  • The History Of England
  • A Collection Of Letters
  • The Female Philosopher
  • The First Act Of a Comedy
  • A Letter from a Young Lady
  • A Tour Through Wales
  • A Tale

It has some fairly standard features such as text resizing options, and the ability to automatically remember the last page viewed for each individual work. What sets this application apart from many other literary ones, however, is that is contains a searchable concordance. The application supports full text search within all included texts making it very handy if a student needs to find a quote or information on a particular subject but doesn’t know where to begin looking. (iPhone Themes, 2011)

The Oxford English Dictionary for Literary Terms

It’s hard to beat the convenience of having access to the Oxford English Dictionary for Literary Terms on your phone. This app is described as:
“…The vocabulary of literary theory and criticism can seem difficult if not opaque. To help remedy the average reader’s bafflement, this new Third Edition of Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms provides succinct and often witty explanations of almost twelve hundred terms, covering everything from the ancient dithyramb to the contemporary dub poetry, from the popular bodice-ripper to the aristocratic masque, and from the social realism of Stalin’s era to the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. “

The application’s features are also extensive:
  • Almost 1,200 entries
  • An expanded and fully updated edition
  • Additions include new terms from modern critical and theoretical movements, schools of American poetry, Spanish verse forms, life writing, crime fiction, feminist criticism
  • Extensive coverage of traditional drama, versification, rhetoric, and literary history
  • Reading recommendations
  • Pronunciation guidance for over 200 terms

This application is meant to help students and others use sometimes difficult to understand literary terms more confidently both in their writing and speaking (hence the pronunciation guide) by giving clear and concise explanations. (Apple, 2011)


Like many other applications, Scarab allows users to load various types of literature right onto an iPhone. However, Scarab goes beyond that basic function by providing each modern literary piece with an additional audio reading—sometimes done by the actual author whose head shot appears next to the piece’s title. One reviewer commented on the added value of being able to actually hear the poetry, as well as read it. (Appolicious) It’s a literary magazine reader with extra dimensions.
“Scarab combines the thrill of a live public reading with the intimacy of a phone call from a friend.”
Scarab also offers a certain level of exclusivity: poems and pieces offered in each issue are only available through Scarab. Plus each issue offers a free poem and podcast of author interviews. (Wired.com, 2009)

Shakespeare and Shakespeare Pro

No discussion of literature applications would be complete without a look at Shakespeare apps. One of the most popular is Shakespeare (or Shakespeare Pro) by Readdle. When I was an undergraduate (many years ago), courses in Shakespeare required me to carry around a 1000 page hardcover book. I still have the book, but today with the Shakespeare application, a student can access the complete works of Shakespeare (41 plays, 154 sonnets and 6 poems, including doubtful works); biographical information, a searchable concordance (search individual plays or sonnets, or the complete works); detailed scene breakdowns with overviews of scenes within each play, and their locations and the characters in each; a gallery of Shakespeare portraits; line numbers; a glossary; and a random quote generator—all on devices that weigh mere ounces and will do searches much more quickly and extensively than could be done before. One reviewer noted that the lack of footnotes in the Shakespeare version was a problem for him, that feature is included in the Pro version. (Michaels, 2010) An added advantage for some is that the basic Shakespeare application is free to download while Shakespeare Pro is $9.99. (Apple, 2011)

iPhone and iPad applications have changed many aspects of life for everyone with access to these devices. The educational uses are extensive, and applications such as the Jane Austen Collection, The Oxford English Dictionary for Literary Terms, Scarab, and Shakespeare have improved the ability of laypeople, students and educators to access resources with real substance, very quickly. While there are costs, sometimes prohibitive ones, associated with owning these devices and sometimes with the purchase of applications, the advantages are still tremendous: search capabilities, concordances, biographical information, access to new and old authors and their works, immediate access to definitions—all just a hand’s reach away.

Apple. (2011). iPhone and iTouch: Apple. Retrieved October 14, 2011, from Apple: http://www.apple.com/education/ipodtouch-iphone/
Apple. (2011). itunes: Apple. Retrieved September 28, 2011, from Apple: http://itunes.apple.com/app/shakespeare/id285035416?mt=8
Apple. (2011). Lieterary Terms Oxford Dictionary: iTunes. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/literary-terms-oxford-dictionary/id307263698?mt=8
Appolicious. (n.d.). Developer's Notes for Scarab App: Appolicious. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from Appolicious: http://www.appolicious.com/omg/apps/86974-scarab-old-brick-press-llc/developer_notes
iPhone Themes. (2011). Jane Austen Collection: iPhone Themes. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from iPhone Themes: http://www.mbtheme.com/WebApp/Reference/201106/Jane-Austen-Collection--with-search-_83137-83137.html
Michaels, P. (2010, March). App World: Mac World. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from Mac World: http://www.macworld.com/appguide/article.html?article=147246
Pressman, A. (2010, May). Gravitational Pull. Retrieved October 14, 2011, from Gravitational Pull: http://gravitationalpull.net/wp/?p=1321
Salber, D. P. (2011, February 9). Retrieved October 21, 2011, from Opposing Views Web site: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/er-doctors-now-using-iphone-apps-for-research-and-diagnosis
Wired.com. (2009, September). Gadget Lab: Wired.com. Retrieved October 10, 2011, from Wired.com: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/09/scarab-iphone-app/