Maybe you’ve been reading an article and a term popped out at you, but you didn’t want to stop reading for long to research it. Or you were sitting at a dinner party, and someone mentioned a movie you hadn’t heard of, but you didn’t have time to hit up IMDB or Wikipedia and read about it. I get moments like this all the time. The team behind Dunno calls them brainslaps, and they don’t want you to miss another one ever again.
Dunno is a free cloud-based app that does research for you while you wait. It’s a universal iOS app and also available on OS X. Think of it like Wunderlist or Evernote, but instead of adding things to a to-do list or jotting down some quick notes, you’re getting research done while you’re away from the Web.
How Dunno Works
I’ve been using Dunno since it was unveiled in May — I got it the first day it was available. It’s just a cool concept, but I’ve heard it described a few too many ways. I’ve heard some people say it’s a research-taking note-making app, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The easiest way to describe Dunno is to get through the excessive barrage regarding its descriptors and simply call it what it is: Dunno is an app that Googles things for you to look at later if you don’t have time to do so currently. With the constant barrage of Read It Later apps, let’s call this Research It Later. It’s that simple.
I’ve done a couple different tests with Dunno and I can’t find many differences (if any at all) between Dunno’s results and Google’s results. This is not an app you’ll want to use if you need to research a scholarly paper, it’s just not that in-depth. Maybe it will be someday – the Dunno team is expanding the app’s roots at a relatively quick pace!
In the past several months, Dunno has announced changes to the app that allow you to Mark websites you find interesting for reading later. You just tap the blue donut-like circle in the search results and read from the results you marked previously, or you can create new search results based off that marked result. The visual interface for this function feels a little like mystery meat to me; I had no idea when I was looking at, or what some of the buttons did. Some people don’t mind that kind of thing (the app is visually appealing as a result, to be sure), but I feel that this sort of design often makes apps unnecessarily difficult to understand.
Dunno’s greatest trick (by far my favourite) is that it syncs between all your devices. No matter what Mac or iDevice I pick up, my information is always synced. Even if you never use it for anything beyond its basic intention (jotting down a brainslap for later research), this feature alone is worth picking up the app for if you’re interested in keeping multiple Apple devices connected.
Dunno achieves this through the creation of a user account, the company does not use iCloud. I don’t mind this approach. It seems to be a little faster than iCloud, and Dunno has been consistently reliable (at least for me) ever since it was released in summer 2012. Creating an account is easy and can be done from within the app.
Minimalist Web-Based Design
Dunno is built to essentially be a launchpad towards existing websites. In other words, if you want to research Peter Jackson’s first film in The Hobbit trilogy and let Dunno do the work for you, loading the Wikipedia page for the movie will take you to the Wikipedia webpage instead of a mobilized version of it. There is no Readability mode. Essentially, Dunno is a web searcher.
This works out fine from a design perspective; it’s easy to code and familiar to end users, so the app is simple enough from a visual level. If you’re on an iPhone and the option exists, the iPhone will display a mobile version of the site. Dunno makes this look great — the iPhone version of the app is my single favourite to use. It’s beautiful, very minimalistic and the small screen means that there are no gimmicky user interfaces to distract me as I research. The only problem I have with the iPhone app is that it doesn’t support a landscape viewing option.
On an iPad or iPad mini, you’re going to be looking at the iPad-optimized site (if such an option exists). This becomes a problem with the iPad app’s user interface, more so with the iPad mini than with the iPad. On the iPad app, browsing is an interesting experience. Unlike the iPhone app, the iPad features something similar to tabbed browsing. Visually, what ends up happening is that a webpage will render at the full resolution of the iPad’s screen but never get to use the entire screen, since a chunk of that screen estate has already been used up by other “tabs.” Text always renders on the small size, which is a minor problem on the iPad and a big problem on the iPad mini, where text can often be unreadable before zooming in.
The only thing Dunno can do to address this problem is change their entire user interface and remove the “tabbed” browsing, or rebuild the app so that it has no reliance on a web interface at all. Instead, they might consider trying to cache text from webpages and display that in a fashion similar to Instapaper or Pocket. That’s a lot of work and I don’t see that being an entirely feasible update. In the meantime, just know that you’ll be doing a lot of pinching-to-zoom and double-tapping-to-zoom in the iPad mini version.
Does Dunno Work?
Dunno is a fantastic concept that I really like. I’ve embraced it since it was first released and I love it more and more all the time, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s not for scholarly work. If you’re like me and your brain never stops, even when you’re “away from the keyboard,” Dunno will be great for you despite the iPad app’s deficiencies (and is best on the iPhone). Recommended.