ScienceDirect iPad app quick review

I just discovered that ScienceDirect, aka Elsevier, released an iPad app. I was really curious to see what they came up with. Short version: I am extremely disappointed. This is a half-baked effort at best. Long version: read below.

The confusion starts from the beginning. On the App Store, you have the choice between a free and a paid ($2.99) version. It took me a while to find the differences between both. The description on the iPad app store does not really help. With the screenshots, I noticed that on the paid version you can also browse by journals. $2.99 for this ? They got to be kidding. Looking around on the science direct website, I finally found the differences. The benefits of paying are :

  • Browsing journal by Journal Name; by Subject Area or in Favourites
  • Setting up Alerts
  • Downloading PDF (iPhone Only)
I wasn’t too far off. The only benefit is the PDF download option, which curiously is only available on the iPhone ??? It’s a hundred times more convenient to read the PDF on the iPad, and yet you can only do it on the iPhone. Curious choice.
Anyway, I downloaded the free version to test it.
The start page is minimalist, with large icons providing access to the main functions: search and saved articles (and journals on the paid version). There is also a similarly huge icon for the information section, which is basically the “about” section. Which at best you will use once. Why would anyone want to have a permanent and quick access to this ? Curious choice, again.
More interesting is the “new on ScienceDirect” below, which you can customize with saved searches.
The search function is ok. Kind off. You can only filter by journal or authors. Why not other choices, like those offered on the website ?
The worst part is when you start reading paper. Some bugs make figures appear multiple times, three times, actually. So does the corresponding legend.
The font size is pretty darn small, and you cannot adjust it. You got to have some pretty good eyes. This is particularly annoying when you browse the table of contents and want to tap the section you want to reach. It’s easy too miss your target with such a small font size. The references section is equally poor and useless. No link to the papers or a search function to find them if they are not on ScienceDirect. Moving to the Figures and Table section, things are wrong again. No numbering of the figures (???). You cannot zoom on the figures, which would be the most basic convenience I can think about. On the abstract section, there is not link to email the corresponding author.
What else ? You would think that they tool care of syncing the app data (e.g searches) with your profile on ScienceDirect ? Well, no such luck:
Q: Can I view articles saved on SciVerse ScienceDirect mobile app through my desktop computer?
A: For now it’s not possible to coordinate your saved articles between the SciVerse ScienceDirect mobile app and from the Internet. This means that articles and searches you’ve saved in the mobile app will not be stored in account but you can email saved article records to yourself.
“email saved article records to yourself” ? Wow, this is the 21st century, guys ! I emailed the customer support a few months ago, when I was having trouble to sign in the iPhone version of Scopus, (to their benefits: they solved the issue quickly) and asked them if they were planning to offer the sync between the website and the app. Nope. They are built on different engines, so it’s wrong from the beginning. ”A tough cookie”, as they told me. The took the same path with the ScienceDirect app, apparently.
One thing they got right, though: the login authentication. It recognized properly my user account from the website, through which I have an institutional access to ScienceDirect.
To sum up, I can see no reason to use it now. All the basic functions are poorly executed or absent, and the absence of a proper sync with the website is really annoying. Some bugs are inexcusable (this is version 1.2.1 already), like the multiple appearance of figures. You would think that coming from such a large publisher (with lots of money, over 1.5 billion of profit), they would develop the app as a proper service to their customer (us). Yet, they claim in their annual report
Good progress on launching new content sets and innovative tools
For sure they were not thinking about their iOS app, right ? In the meantime, it’s more comfortable to use the ScienceDirect website on Safari. Try again. Removed from my iPad.

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