Tuesday, 13 October 2009


Openmoko, a group which produces and distributes an open-source mobile phone environment, as well as phones to run it, has released the WikiReader, a dedicated device for reading Wikipedia. The WikiReader has a 240 by 200 pixel touchscreen and uses a compressed, text-only version of Wikipedia stored on a microSD card. Users can subscribe to receive quarterly updated copies on a new microSD card, or download the updates for free.

There are many implementations out there for reading Wikipedia on mobile devices, but to my knowledge this is the first dedicated Wikipedia reading device. However, beyond the inherent simplicity that a dedicated device provides, it's difficult to see many advantages to the WikiReader over other options.

One of the major advantages of Wikipedia is its up-to-the-minute coverage, and as an offline device (even with quarterly updates) the WikiReader loses this advantage. Mobile online access to Wikipedia has not been the best in the past, but the Wikipedia mobile portal has received plenty of tender loving development recently and is now quite decent, even on older devices. Aside from this mobile web interface, there are also dedicated Wikipedia reading apps for devices such as the iPhone.

Naturally not everyone has mobile internet access, or is always in a location where it is available, so offline methods are essential for many people. But there are plenty of implementations available for other devices, such as Encyclopodia, for the iPod family, or a TomeRaider format Wikipedia ebook.

Of course, the convenience of Wikipedia has been central to its success, and the convenience of a dedicated device may outweigh its disadvantages. It will be difficult for the WikiReader to succeed, however, when there is so much more flexible competition out there.