Review of PubMed On Tap and PubMed on Tap Life for iPhone and iPad

Earlier this month, we reviewed the National Library of Medicine’s own app for accessing PubMed: PubMed for Handhelds. Today, we are going to look at a well-known 3rd party alternative for searching PubMed: PubMed on Tap.

PubMed on Tap has been available for the iPhone for over 5 years and offers two versions: PubMed on Tap and the free PubMed on Tap Lite. The two versions are essentially the same, except that PubMed on Tap Lite includes ads, displays only 20 references per online search, and allows you to save only 50 references.

PubMed on Tap serves two primary functions – a mobile PubMed search interface and reference management. When you open the app, these two functions are present. Since you will not have references to manage until you find some, we will start with the search.

69017-1 main search

Searching with PubMed on Tap

To search PubMed, tap the PubMed link under Online Search – note that you can also search PubMed Central, a repository of open access papers. Most people will want to search PubMed since PubMed Central is not as comprehensive.

69017-2 PubMed search no tags   69017-3 PubMed search tags

Tap inside the PubMed search box, and a menu of Boolean operators and field tags appears. This allows you to select two things:

  1. Where you want terms searched, for example, [au] searches in the author field
  2. How you want your search terms combined, for example, with ‘AND’, meaning all results should have both terms, or with ‘OR’, meaning results can contain either term.

69017-4 advanced search

The Advanced Search screen lets you pick your fields without having to know field code abbreviations, which is probably more helpful for most users. Two concepts can be searched at a time. Numerous limits from PubMed are available, including publication type, date, subset (which includes systematic review and core clinical journal filters), and gender.

69017-5 search with results

Icons on the results list indicate whether free full text is available. Full text icons appear for references that are available online in any format, many for a subscription cost. If your institution subscribes to the journal, you may be able to get in while you are on the campus network. For off-campus access to your library’s subscriptions, add your institution’s EZProxy URL under Settings. This customization is lacking in the previously reviewed PubMed4Hh app.

Managing References

69017-6 citations

From within a reference, you can share the reference via email (configure email addresses in Settings), Twitter or Facebook (the default prepend is “Interesting article,” which can be changed in Settings), or Safari.

69017-7 authors

Once you view a PDF, it downloads to the app and becomes accessible through the Authors and Attachments Smart Groups. Both groups are dynamically generated; Authors lists all the authors of papers that have been saved so that you can easily see references in your library by each author and Attachments is an updated list of all the saved attachments.

69017-8 static group

You can create a Static Group of papers. This is like a folder and can be used for organizing papers by topic or project.

References can be transferred to Bookends, reference management software from the same company (Sonny Software) that makes PubMed on Tap. Bookends is only available for Macs.

Advanced Features

69017-9 shortcut manager

The search shortcuts can be configured with additional search limits based on PubMed field code syntax. If you are savvy with PubMed searching, you could add a shortcut to be able to limit to systematic reviews with a quick tap. This offers a rare combination of sophisticated searching with ease of use.

Evidence Behind the App
Like most PubMed interfaces, PubMed on Tap is just a search engine and does not offer content. PubMed is an excellent source for the best clinical evidence, and PubMed on Tap does make it easy to search through useful search limits like publication type.

  • Price
    • $2.99 for full version, Free for PubMed on Tap Lite.
    • Unlike most third-party PubMed interfaces, PubMed on Tap offers a sophisticated suite of search options, from stripped-down keyword searches, to optional field selections, to precise field code tags.  You can even add your own shortcuts to the field code list if you are facile with PubMed commands.
    • Results match searches done in PubMed’s native interface. This means you are getting all the power of PubMed’s indexing and algorithms.
    • Integrating reference management with good searching allows you to save papers for easy lookup on your device.
    • Customization with institutional EZ Proxy users makes it simple to connect to full text articles for most affiliated users.
  • Dislikes
    • The interface could use an update. Older fonts and a lack of task-based guided navigation make this app a little awkward to use at first.
    • Some users may be confused about what is available in full text. Affiliated users should visit Settings to add their EZ Proxy.
    • There are no PDF editing tools (though the small iPhone screen would probably prohibit their use).
    • No Android version is available.
    • The 20 item result limit in the free version makes it impossible to recommend for anyone doing searches for clinical care.
  • Overall

    PubMed on Tap offers some clever search and organizational features. Download the lite version to play with it and see if you like it better than the native PubMed app and mobile site. If so, buy the regular version so that you are not limited to 20 results.

  • Overall Score
  • User Interface

    The interface needs an upgrade to cleaner fonts and guided navigation.

  • Multimedia Usage
    • N/A
  • Price

    You have to buy the full version if you intend to use this app beyond exploration.

  • Real World Applicability

    While PubMed searches can be made on other devices, this app combines advanced search features with the ability to organize favorite references.

  • Available for DownloadiPhoneiPad