Showcase Review: KPCOFGS taxonomy browser for iPhone



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In ‘Showcase’ reviews, the reviewer is the developer. No claim of objectivity is made, but it’s a chance for the developer to show off his/her app. Here, Aaron Thompson presents a taxonomy browser for iPhone: KPCOFGS .

KPCOFGS is a biological taxonomy browser for iPhone that contains the entire ITIS database of known life forms on earth, from every kingdom and every phylum all the way down to every species. As the developer of KPCOFGS, I’d like to give a tour of my little app and also explain some of the work and decision making that went into making it what it is.

All Kinds of Earth’s Life Forms at Quick Reference

You can browse the tree of life hierarchically in smooth iPhone fashion, or search by common or latin name. For any “branch” or “leaf” of the tree (a taxon), you can get detailed information such as the common names, geographic origin, and publications and experts related to the taxon. And as a further convenience, direct links to the taxon’s corresponding page on the ITIS or Tree of Life page are provided. I’ve made every effort to keep the interface as intuitive and clean as possible.

Convenient Efficiency by Design

In order to make KPCOFGS more usable at all times, I decided not to make a simple wrapper to the source database’s web site, but instead store the database in the app itself. The advantages are that the app functions fully without network access, and the browse and search speeds are never affected by network lag.

Now, although there are around 400,000 taxons in the database, I put a lot of effort into slimming down the database size without sacrificing any important information. The result is that, on average, each taxon takes a scant 186 bytes.

Moreover, I also wanted to make sure it would run fast enough to be useful for quick reference, even on the slower first-generation iPhone processor. After many, many hours of careful query optimization and testing, I managed to get the time to search by common name down to under 4 seconds on a first-generation iPhone. Browsing the tree hierarchy is also very quick, taking just a few tenths of a second to drill down to each next level.

I encourage you to give KPCOFGS a try and let me know how I can make it more useful to you – suggestions for a version 1.1 are appreciated! Just shoot me an email at kpcofgs [at] with your thoughts. You can get KPCOFGS on the iPhone store for just 99¢.

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