The Penguin Classics App

There really aren’t that many good or interesting literature apps out there. So, the good news is that Penguin Classics just debuted their app, and it’s pretty good.

Some contributing thoughts (courtesy of Fast Company, “Penguin Classics App Shakes Up Book Browsing With A Pub Quiz For Lit Lovers”), suggest that this could be “doing for iPhone book browsing what Urbanspoon did for restaurant searching” (kind of a weird analogy, but I suppose I get it). The UrbanSpoon comparison fits well enough: shaking your iPhone lets you chance upon a randomly selected book title. The shaking thing never truly appealed to me — it seems less of a normal browsing action, and more of a reaction, when one is trying to compel intractable technology to work properly. Maybe that’s just me, however.

The Good: You can find every Penguin Classic spanning over 1,500 titles; some reading tracking features (bookmark interesting looking books, Books I’ve Read, Books I Want to Read); The Essential Classics recommendations are great; and The Penguin Classics Quiz is the most fun part — One Minute Lightning Round, Five Minute, and Ten Minute Play.

The Not So Good: The only gripe I had was that the Discover the Classics and More Like This features had some issues and worked less-than-smoothly the few times I’ve tried it out thus far.

Also of Note: As Fast Company points out, you can only purchase print-editions of the Penguin Classics through the app, instead of ebooks as you might expect:

“E-rights are thorny with some classics, but Penguin doesn’t rule out the possibility of an e-book store in the future. For now, the app makes it less of a tool for a book-lovers’ immediate gratification, more a tool to carry with you to your local shop. Who knows, maybe it’ll lead to more purchases of actual books.”

Verdict: All in all, it’s a good-looking app, with some genuinely compelling features. Couple of bugs, and some aspects of the navigation could be better, but it’s the first release, so I’m optimistic it’ll get better as it goes. It’s not a bad start at all.

And here’s a link to where you can find it at the App Store. It’s free, so worth checking out.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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