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Discourse, The Beautiful Dictionary App

The iOS platform doesn’t lack great dictionary apps. From Terminology for iPhone and iPad (both of them reviewed on MacStories) to the dozens available for free on the App Store, users can stay assured there’s a way to check on word meanings, references and, at best, thesaurus with an app. After all, it would be strange otherwise.

Still, there’s always room for better. So developer Emilio Palàez (also known for his Notified app in Cydia) and designer Mathieu White set out to create the most beautiful and easy to use dictionary app for the iPhone. Discourse, which we previewed on MacStories a few weeks ago, is now available. As I expected when running the beta version, Discourse is pretty great.

First off, Discourse is beautiful. It’s simple, elegant and crisp with its book-like metaphor that, in my opinion, doesn’t feel as forced as it may be in other apps like iBooks. Discourse has a virtual dictionary on screen with a wooden background that becomes part of the bottom toolbar, and the possibility to swipe your finger horizontally to access the other page of the open dictionary. It feels very intuitive and allowed the developers to put more information and options in the app without having to create additional views that would have broken the book metaphor. So, the two page layout works. The pixels are pretty, the graphics updated for the Retina Display. I knew Mathieu White was good; this one is his most beautiful work to date. As far as the design goes, Discourse outshines the competition.

The functionalities of Discourse aren’t as limited as one may think when he reads the word “simple” in the App Store description page. When you fire up the app, you’re given a blank page with a search bar on top. As you start looking for a word definition, the results kick in below pulled from the web, and as you tap on one you’re brought to the second page of the dictionary. You can bookmark a word, or go back to the main screen and search for a new definition. Bookmarks are accessible from the tab bar, and the view maintains the standards established in the first screen. Same applies for the History tab.

The settings come with a few features to play with: you can shake the iPhone to get a random word definition (boy do I fear that shiny piece of glass is gonna drop off my hands) or view the Word of the Day. The latter is a nice option to get a new definition every day, although I don’t know how many users will actually remember on a daily basis.

Discourse is no Terminology. If you’re looking for a full-featured dictionary app, you should consider Agile Tortoise’s software which, personally, I enjoy using a lot. Discourse is for all those people who don’t need a massive feature set and don’t mind being able to quickly look up definitions in a beautiful UI.

And that’s what Discourse really is: a gorgeous app to get word definitions. $0.99 in the App Store.

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