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Summary:

When it was first released, WolframAlpha generated a lot of buzz surrounding the impressive computational power the new search engine-type service offered. Specifically for mathematical and statistical queries, it goes quite beyond what Google is able to offer. But does all that power justify a $50 price […]

WolframAlpha Web App

WolframAlpha Web App

When it was first released, WolframAlpha generated a lot of buzz surrounding the impressive computational power the new search engine-type service offered. Specifically for mathematical and statistical queries, it goes quite beyond what Google is able to offer. But does all that power justify a $50 price tag on the site’s iPhone app treatment?

Wolfram Alpha LLC seems to think so, since it’s asking $49.99 for the just-released app, the first developed using Wolfram Alpha’s new API. Mashable also seems to agree, but I’m not so sure, and I’ll tell you why.

Mashable’s Christina Warren is quick to point out that the iPhone version “is much more than just a mobile version of the website,” a claim which I definitely agree would justify at least some kind of extra expenditure, but then I compared my results on the web-based version running in Safari to the ones she showed from the app itself. Guess what? The results are identical. In the app, things are slightly more readable and optimized for the iPhone’s screen, but the data is exactly the same, and the web interface is far from clunky itself.

wolfram_1Things like Source Information do seem to work a lot better in the app than in the web interface, because they weren’t specifically designed for mobile touchscreen platforms, but if you’re like me, you don’t go around dropping $50 to resolve every minor inconvenience that comes your way.

The Mashable piece also rolls in the value of the Wolfram app as a graphing calculator, which would be useful for students, it goes on to suggest. Putting aside the fact that you get the same graphs using the web app as you do with the app, students would never be able to use this app in a test situation, when cheating is an issue, and a device that requires network connectivity to work is involved. Professionals that might use it would benefit just as much from using the web app, so I don’t buy this argument either.

wolfram_2So is the price of WolframAlpha for iPhone an example of absurd hubris on the part of its developers? I don’t think so. I think they’ve just made a highly polished, non-browser based version of their awesome computational engine targeted at professionals and businessmen who look at a $50 application as a justifiable expense for something they use many times daily. Don’t, however, try to tell me that the price is justified by added features or functionality, or that anyone other than an elite class of niche users would find enough value to merit the cost. The price will come down if Wolfram decides it wants to sell the app, so my advice is to just be patient if you’re anxious to get your mobile stats analysis on.

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  1. don’t you think they just wanted all the media-coverage on their new release like they are getting it now?
    we all know now about the existence of this app!
    probably soon the price will drop.

  2. The app store model is a distasteful fad and a lazy supplement for poor web/browser-based programming ability. The web-based software model is where things were heading until Apple, in kind, opted to cater to consumer’s (and developer’s) lesser desire to have things ‘just work’. Steve Wolfram, like Steve Jobs, has only one real motivation- to make money. WolframAlpha is a gimmick, not an innovation. The Apple app store is a horrible infringement of the rights of both the consumer’s wallet and the programmer’s creation, at once, to the enormous monetary benefit of the company and the enormous detriment of innovation at large. Meanwhile, somebody in Russia is tinkering with command-line interface to make a real product on a Linux machine, while a million Mac users are making pictures of themselves look prettier than they do in real life and uploading them to facebook, unemployed. So thank them both for being unidirectionally motivated by greed for me next time you see them.

    1. How is the app store an infringement on “the rights of a consumer’s wallet and the programmer’s creation”?

  3. $50 is quite a steal for an app that requires an active internet connection, and that does not provide much more than the web version… Actually there are several graphing calculator apps for the iPhone that cost 10 times less and able to provide at least 95% of the needs for a graphing calculator, eg: the 4.99$ “Math Graphing” app (http://iphone.kybervision.com/mathgraphing/) looks more useful for students than Wolfram Alpha.

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