WolframAlpha iPhone: Why the $50 Asking 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 (s goog) 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.