Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Definition wants to be the last word on defining words

Sidwyn Koh, hard at work.

Intoxicated by the exuberance of someone's verbosity? Or merely befuddled by a perplexing stream of verbiage? If you've found yourself wishing you had access to a decent dictionary on the iPhone, you might want to give Definition a look.

Definition, which was developed by 18-year-old Sidwyn Koh, is a neat app that quickly gives you definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and pronunciations. The app is available on the App Store for US$1.99.

There is no shortage of dictionary-like apps in the App Store. iMerlion speaks to Sidwyn who explains why he thinks Definition is superior to the competition.

Why did you develop this app?

Firstly, the current dictionary apps out there are too slow. You have to tap through several pages before you actually reach the word you're looking for. By then, you would have lost all context of the word.

What was the spark for the idea? Was it perhaps frustration at current apps or were you looking to develop an app that fills a need?

Yes, it was definitely the slow speed on the other dictionary apps. I sat down to think of a user interface that would be appealing to most users, and realized that definitions had to be on the same page of the search bar so that the user would not lose the context of the word. Google Instant had just come out at that time, and I sort of took that idea and implemented a similar one for this app, which made it even faster ;)

How is your app different from the competition?

- It's fast.
- It's small.
- It's beautiful.

You said that the current apps are too slow and one has to go through several pages to get a definition. Can you elaborate because in my experience, this is not the case. Ninjawords, for example, is pretty fast.

It's fast, but not very intuitive. The design isn't that great either. Well there are stuff that Ninjawords does well, which Definition doesn't, and vice versa as well. So it's pretty subjective.

What is the source of your definitions, synonyms, antonyms and pronunciations?

I use the Wordnik API for everything except pronunciations. I use Forvo's API for the pronunciations.

Your app has a great name by the way. Was it hard to come by?

It just came up into my mind one day, and I thought, yeah this is a great app name! One problem though, is that it is hard for me to track statistics or search it in Google since 'definition' is such a common word.

How long did it take you to develop this?

The first version (v1.0) took 16 hours, the second revision (v1.1) took half a day to redraw the canvas. A bug fix (v1.1.1) was also submitted on Monday (last week) and that took a couple of hours too.

However, I strongly believe it is not the number of hours committed that matter, but rather the problem your product solves. Definition brings an entirely new way of how we interact with mobile dictionaries.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome them?

Getting good definitions. To speak truthfully, I'm still trying to partner with major dictionaries for the next major update (for iPad as well!) Don't worry though, I'm working on it.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I'm 18, just graduated from high school and going into army in a couple of months. I also work on Seesmic for iPhone together with some other awesome developers all over the world. Made two other apps, Xmas iCards for fun, and NUS High for my high school.

People always think of changing the world. I do too, but I take it one problem at a time. I hope this app, Definition, will alleviate frustrations of defining a word.

How did you get started in iPhone development? And how did your involvement in Seesmic come about?

This is a really long story, and it'd be better if I explain it in person. But to summarize it, I was very intrigued by iPhones and the way users interacted with them. I started off with the iPhone 2G when it first came out, and one day I decided to contribute to the iPhone community by making apps! I found the Seesmic job on a local job site :)

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