iPhone app appeared in the iTunes App Store today. The app, which costs $49.99, gives users full access to Wolfram Alpha's capabilities and greatly improves on the speed and ergonomics of Wolfram Alpha's mobile site. The company is targeting this app at students and professionals and marketing it as a replacement for stand-alone graphing calculators, which is clearly reflected in the price.Quite a bit ahead of schedule, Wolfram Alpha's
One of the most interesting feature of the app, besides the ability to quickly access all of the power that Wolfram Alpha now offers, is the fact that the company has found a way to make inputing queries very easy. Instead of a single keyboard at the bottom of the screen, the app actually displays two keyboards - one for numbers and symbols, and a regular QWERTY keyboard at the bottom of the screen. Given the nature of a typical query for Alpha, this makes perfect sense and we hope that others will follow Alpha's lead here.
A Web-Connected Graphing Calculator, But With Some Limitations
plenty of basic graphing calculators for those times when you don't have Internet access. Thanks to its vast database of chemical compounds, nutritional data, geographical information, financial data, and its ability to solve pretty much any math problem that a high school or college student will ever encounter, the app can do a lot more than any current graphing calculator can offer.It's important to note that the app only works when a user is connected to the Internet. This could be a deal-breaker for some, but then, the app store already offers
For some students, though, the problem could be that some teachers won't allow them to bring a full-blown Internet-capable device like the iPhone or an iPod touch into an exam. In addition, it's also important to note that the Wolfram Alpha doesn't offer the ability to write programs inside the app, though maybe somebody else will build an app that can do this based on Alpha's newly released API.
It's also important to remember that Alpha isn't as easy to use as Google. Alpha, and, by extension, the app, can be rather strict about how you structure a query, for example. If you don't capitalize a chemical formula, the app won't know what to do with these symbols. While Google has virtually no learning curve, Alpha works best if you invest some time into exploring the intricacies of how to structure queries. To help you along the way, the app features a demo video, lots of example queries, and an FAQ section.
Native App Offers a Bit More Than the Web Service, But Is That Enough to Justify the High Price?
In its press materials, the Wolfram Alpha team stresses that the app offers a number of features that the web app can't currently offer. The app can now make assumptions based on your location, for example. Wolfram also has added quite a few features that make using the app easier than using the web service. You can easily bookmark queries and the app keeps a running list of recent searches available as well. In addition, you can easily email queries or share them on Twitter.
Is $50 Too Much?
At $49.99, there can be no doubt that Wolfram Research is pricing the app at the higher end of the spectrum. A spokesperson for Wolfram Alpha told us that the company wants to target the app at "serious users, and is priced as such." The team is clearly aware that this price could be controversial, especially given that the mobile web site offers a similar interface, though without the ergonomic benefits of the native app. In addition, Wolfram tells us that the team wants to use this price to make a statement about the "non-trivial nature" of Wolfram Alpha's capabilities.
While the company plans to offer regular discounts and sales, we can't help but wonder if the price isn't a bit too high. At $9.99 or even $19.99, the app would be more of an impulse buy, while now, even though it obviously offers more features than a user would ever expect from a high-priced hardware graphing calculator which would generally retail for more than $100.
Wolfram Alpha launched to so much hype that a backlash was inevitable when it finally launched. As Schoeller Porter, the product manager for the iPhone app, notes, the company is also launching this app "as an opportunity to highlight how far the system has come since launch." Indeed, the Wolfram Alpha team continues to add new data sources and new ways to query them, making the service more useful with every new dataset it adds.
The high price will probably keep quite a few potential users from downloading the app, however. While we understand the company's rational behind this high price, users generally consider a $10 app to be a 'premium' product. $49.99 is a hefty price for this app, especially considering that the majority of features is available through the web service. If you are a student or engineer who really needs these features, though, the app is worth a look, but we recommend you try the web service and see how it works for the kinds of queries you would enter before you spend $50, especially given that the company will surely offer discounts or bring the base price down at some point.