Review: American Dreams App for iPhone & iPod Touch

Multieducator Inc. American Dreams—Speeches and Documents in US History for iPhone OS 2.2 or later and iPod Touch second generation or later. Updated March 1, 2010.  Current Version 1.04. 43.8 MB. $2.99.

The American Dreams app for iPhone and iPod Touch is a portable library of primary source documents and audio files related to United States and North American history.  The app contains 480 documents including the Constitution and its Amendments, 90 U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and all of the presidential inaugural addresses.  The range of documents is quite broad, reaching back in time to the Mayflower Compact and Samuel Champlain’s account of the founding of Quebec City in 1608 up to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Roper v. Simmons (2005) and President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (2009).  The app also has 18 audio files—twelve presidential inaugural speeches, five other significant presidential speeches, and Neil Armstrong’s fabled pronouncement, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The app’s best feature is its content.  I especially like the audio clips; speeches, after all, are meant to be heard.  Standouts include a Theodore Roosevelt campaign speech from 1912, the first FDR fireside chat (on banking), and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.  Be forewarned that some of the audio files provide only an excerpt from the speeches.  I like that the app provides a brief description for the documents and audio files (although for some I wish the editors had provided more information).  Click on the arrow on the right of the document name to access the description.

Navigation is easy.  The table of contents organizes the documents and audio files by historical period/decade (e.g., The Colonial Period; 1860 to 1869) and by document and file type (e.g., Supreme Court Decisions; Audio Recording [sic]).  Users can locate documents by performing keyword searches in the text, title, and description of documents, but it would be nice if the app highlighted the keyword in the text.  Users can bookmark files using the “Favorites” feature and find recently reviewed documents with the “Recents” feature.

The app has several problems, however, that need to be rectified.  The text is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors like “Presdienet Reagan’s,” “John Adam,” and “founded” instead of “founding” that make the app look sloppy.  The descriptive information for some audio files is missing.  The text of the 27th Amendment is incomplete and smaller than the text of the other documents.  The app names files inconsistently: some inaugural addresses of two-term presidents are named according to year (e.g., George W Bush 2001 Inaugural Address), while others are named according to whether they are that president’s first or second inaugural address (e.g., George W Bush 2nd Inaugural Address).  The text of the documents is small and cannot be re-sized.  The app does not let you take notes or highlight the text.

I have a few more, less significant quibbles. The name of the app—American Dreams—is a bit odd and does not provide an apt description.  I would prefer that the app come with more in-depth descriptions and timeline features, putting the primary source material in context and making it more accessible to a general audience.  In addition, since the iPhone and iPod Touch are multimedia tools, I would love to see more multimedia content in the app including images, video, and audio.  More multimedia would make the app more appealing, albeit pricier.

Despite its flaws, American Dreams is a fun app for people who want to have primary source historical documents in their pocket.  The $2.99 price is reasonable for what you get, and presumably Multieducator will correct the errors I mentioned above.  People who have trouble reading small script should avoid this purchase.  If you are interested in American Dreams, you should also take a look at the U.S. Historical Documents app ($.99) by Standard Works LLC which offers a smaller collection (200) of historical documents, some of which are not in American Dreams, along with the ability to highlight and take notes in the text.

Iantha Haight is a Research Attorney and Lecturer in Law at Cornell Law Library in Ithaca, New York.

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