Must-have reference and learning apps for your iPad and iPhone

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The best learning and reference apps for iPad and iPhone

Learn a bit more and improve a bit faster with Wikipedia, WolframAlpha, Duolingo, Google Keep, Dictionary, and other apps.

There are millions of apps in the iTunes Store, and I bet you’ve tested dozens of them already. Which is your favorite category? Games? Entertainment? Photo & video?

The thing is everything can be fun with the iPad, not only games. You’ll enjoy reading books, learning a new language, doing research, or writing an essay.

Below, we’ve collected a few apps that will keep you in the learning mood. These are not classroom apps. These are apps you can use personally to learn a bit more and improve a bit faster in everything you do.

If you are reading an article on the New York Times website, you can always extend your knowledge about the topic or find a historical background. If you have a few spare minutes, you can always learn a language instead of checking out Facebook. If you are browsing the web, you can always collect the most interesting pieces you could use in the future.

Some lists put together dozens of education or reference apps. We’ve decided to collect only a few of them and provide detailed descriptions to give you the stronger reason to download and try them.

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Best reference and learning iPad apps

1. Wikipedia

Wikipedia - best reference apps for iPad and iPhone

You may ask a question: Why should I download another app if I can access Wikipedia from my Safari or Google Chrome?

The reason is simple. A dedicated Wikipedia application gives you more power and control.

First of all, you can customize the app to look exactly the way you like it. You can change the font size, brightness, and theme. Two themes are like the night mode. They show a white text on a dark background. You can also enable an option to dim images if one of the dark themes is selected.

I find the night mode feature exceptionally helpful during my evening reading sessions, when I switch from the Kindle app with the night theme turned on.

Wikipedia app is heavily integrated with iOS. You can find wiki articles using Spotlight search. The app offers three Today widgets: recently read articles, featured articles, and top reads. Another convenient thing is the ability to save articles for offline reading.

The app’s most significant benefit, however, is multilingual support.

With 40 million articles written in 300 languages, it’s easy to find on the web a wiki entry written in the language you don’t understand. The app is fixing this problem.

You can define your preferred languages in the settings, and pick up the default one. When you search Wikipedia, you can quickly tap the language of your choice. Finally, you can always switch the language version once you are in the article.

Benefits: night mode and other personalization options, ability to save articles for offline reading, integration with iOS
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iMessage
Price: Free

⇢ Wikipedia

2. Duolingo

Duolingo - best language iPad and iPhone applications

Do you want to start learning a new language? Or at least give yourself a chance to try? What other device is better to accomplish it than your iPhone or iPad? You can take your language lessons everywhere!

Most probably, the first thing you will do is searching the iTunes Store for most helpful language apps. And download a few for testing. Make sure Duolingo is one of them. Or even better – try it first, and you won’t even touch the other ones.

Duolingo offers a whole new way to learn languages. It’s more like a game than a lesson. And you’ll keep being motivated with an extensive reward and progress tracking system.

The app will let you practice reading, writing, and conversations at different levels, using advanced technology and intelligent chatbots. Duolingo learns from your performance, as well as achievements of the community of over 200-million language geeks. Thanks to that, the lessons will be personalized for you, so that you can learn faster and be more motivated.

You can start learning one of the 30 most popular languages. English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese are among them. ¿Estás listo?

Benefits: a game-like language app with advanced learning tools and extensive motivation system
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iMessage
Price: Free, in-app purchases including Duolingo Plus subscription for $9.99/month

⇢ Duolingo

3. Google Earth

Google Earth - best learning apps for iPad and iPhone

If you are using Google Maps, you may wonder why you would need another map app, such as Google Earth.

What’s the difference between Google Maps and Google Earth? The first app is down-to-earth, giving you information about places you need to visit. The latter one is pure heaven.

Google Earth is clearly the most stunning way to explore the world without leaving home. And it’s not only about 3D imagery or an iconic zoom-in engine.

Once you type in a location (or roll dice for a random pick), you will see the destination, but also be able to learn about it. Besides pictures from Google and Panoramio users, you can read a knowledge card about the place you’ve entered, with key fact highlights and related places to explore.

Another way to learn about the world with Google Earth is Voyager, a feature which brings you one-of-a-kind experiences from Sesame Street, BBC Earth, NASA, and other leading sources.

Benefits: all-in-one way to quickly learn about most attractive locations on Earth
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad
Price: Free

⇢ Google Earth

4. - best dictionary and thesaurus apps for iPhone

If you are looking for a comprehensive and affordable tool to improve your language skills, download app from the App Store.

Once you open the app to check out a particular word, you are guaranteed to stay longer. Why? is not only a dictionary and thesaurus in one, offering over 2 million detailed definitions. It’s an entire ecosystem that will help you explore words, phrases, and meanings in a surprisingly entertaining way.

Other apps in the Apple iTunes Store offer traditionally organized definitions. Information is delivered linearly, and it’s easy to get lost in more complex entries. splits every entry into simpler and cleaner sections: dictionary, thesaurus (synonyms), origin, and learners. In the paid version, you will also gain access to examples, idioms, grammar, or slang, among others.

You can set up your primary search option: dictionary or thesaurus. You can favorite words, see spell or IPA, learn about trending words. Plus, there are extensive tools that will let you enjoy learning about language to the fullest: Word of the Day (with an option to receive daily notifications), Grammar Tips, Word Trends, Slideshows, and more.

The app offers several options to upgrade, from removing the ads ($1.99) to adding example sentences ($2.99), to the offline dictionary ($2.99).

Benefits: a comprehensive tool for a language geek
Compatibility: iPhone, Apple Watch
Price: Free, Premium for $5.99


5. Word of the Day

Word of the Day - best language apps for iPad

If you are looking for a simple tool that will prompt you to learn English, the app that sends a notification with one new word a day is all you need to keep you on the tracks.

This feature is available in and other learning apps, but a little application called,… surprise, surprise,… Word of the Day is extremely well designed and focused on just this one thing.

The app gives a short and simple definition of the word, accompanied by an example sentence. You will be able to see how many times the certain word was favorited by other users, and find more info on Google with just one tap.

The fun thing is that you can share the word with your friends by sending an automatically generated image with a crossword puzzle to Facebook, Instagram, and other services.

All previously released words of the day are available for you in the app’s archive. You can explore them randomly, alphabetically, or by date.

Benefits: easy to use, daily prompt to expand English vocabulary
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad
Price: Free

⇢ Word of the Day

6. WolframAlpha

WolframAlpha - top learning apps for iPad and iPhone

The interface of WolframAlpha app is to me what the science looks like. It’s like being taken out right from an advanced academic book.

WolframAlpha is an answer engine, using complex algorithms to aggregate answers in a range of topics, including science, nutrition, people, history, geography, engineering, mathematics, linguistics, or books.

Where Google gives a list of thousands of results, WolframAlpha provides one detailed answer (or we should rather say “report”) based on external sources – curated, structured, processed, and visualized.

The iOS WolframAlpha app can be helpful if you are looking for data-rich information from several areas, including mathematics, statistics, chemistry, engineering, astronomy, socioeconomics, or web & computer systems.

You can also find answers to less advanced topics such as currency rates, date & time, or weather analysis. Are you looking for a structured information about people, fictional characters, books, TV programs, or historical events? WolframAlpha has it, too.

A lesser-known fact is that several parts of WolframAlpha computed answer engine are used by Apple’s voice assistant Siri.

Benefits: single answers to most complex questions, aggregated detailed reports on topics from numerous fields
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad
Price: $2.99

⇢ WolframAlpha

7. Google Keep

Google Keep - top reference iOS apps for iPad and iPhone

What to do with all the data you find on the web or in the apps listed above? The best way is to put together all that matters in a single, easy-to-access place.

Because the best reference tool is the one you create and curate yourself.

There are several note-taking apps in the iTunes App Store, but only one of them does one thing perfectly: collecting and organizing stuff. It’s Google Keep.

Google Keep is better than Apple’s Notes, Bear Notes, or Evernote in keeping the collected staff organized, and easy to find. You can apply different background colors to notes so that you could easily identify them. The search loupe icon is always in view, but you can also find notes by the label, kind (reminders, lists, or images), topic, or person identified with the note.

Organizing things is one area, but before that, you need to add them to the app. And Google Keep beats the competition again.

The app has a dedicated tool that rests on iOS sharing menu. But you can also write notes instantly, take photos and easily doodle on them, or make own drawings.

As Google Keep is working across different platforms, you can add notes to the service using the web browser on your laptop, or an Android device. And everything will appear in your Google Keep account – no matter which device will you be using five or ten years from now.

Benefits: the easiest way to collect and organize reference notes from around the web, as well as own ideas and pictures
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad
Price: Free

⇢ Google Keep

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