Wolfram Alpha Review
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Wolfram Alpha Review

Our Review by Chris Hall on April 13th, 2010
Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: EXTENSIVE
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If you haven't heard of Wolfram Alpha yet, read up... it's a pretty big deal. It is trying to "make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything".

Developer: Wolfram Alpha
Price: $1.99
Version Reviewed: 1.2

iPhone Integration Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar
User Interface Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: starstarstarstarstar

Overall Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar

Wolfram Alpha is a big deal in the scientific and mathematic community. The overall goal of Wolfram Alpha is to "make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone" with the aim to "collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything." I would definitely recommend reading the about page of the site… it's quite interesting.

With "10+ trillion pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains", there's not a chance in the world that I can review the knowledge base that Wolfram Alpha provides, so I will try and spend my time on the app that serves as the delivery system.

The thing to know about Wolfram Alpha is that it is not Wikipedia. If you type in something like Apple (Computer), you don't get a company history like you do with Wikipedia, you get a whole slew of stats. In the list are the latest trade value, fundamentals an financials, recent returns, price history, performance comparisons, projections, company information, and a few other various stats. Each search response is answered with an answer page that is laid out nicely and is pleasing to the eye.

Because the app is used mainly for algorithms, the input keyboard takes up about 5/6 of the screen and includes the letter keyboard as well as the number keyboard that is slightly expanded to take advantage of some more specific scientific calculations. Input is all fairly quick, and when done, the app provides an "assumption" button at the top of the entry. For example, when I typed in Apple, it assumed that I was talking about the financial institution, but with a click on the "assumption" button, I could change it to the food, the spacecraft, the general material, or a bunch of other categories that pertain to the word.

Here are a few more inputs that I tried, just to show some examples of what the app can do:

I felt the need to do a Google search for "most difficult math equation". After a quick search, I found that Fermat's Last Theorem was a pretty tricky one. I typed it into Wolfram Alpha and got this exact page, with almost the exact same layout. The context of the theorem is way beyond me, but I did learn that Andrew Wiles made 100,000 German Marks for successfully proving the theorem. I then looked up "what is the speed of a swallow" and got back, "just slightly less than the estimated average cruising airspeed of an unladen swallow". Third on my list was "meaning of life". The answer was "42"... duh. I asked a few more questions, like "when did Jaws come out?", "how much money did Avatar make?", and "how old was Bill Gates in 1985", and all the questions were answered successfully and even provided additional info to further my quest for knowledge. I even asked the daunting question, "are we alone?" and got back something about the Drake equation, which seems to be an equation that calculates the probability of other planets that have life.

I really can't recommend Wolfram Alpha enough if you are often in the need for answers. Admittedly, the Wikipedia app does a pretty nice job of hunting down information, but if you want an app that can quickly show you the median home price, unemployment rate, and current weather of a certain city all while answering the most bizarre math problems out there, Wolfram Alpha is difficult to beat. While the initial price of $50 was a tough pill to swallow, the current $2 price tag should definitely palatable, even for the most thrifty app shoppers.

iPhone Screenshots

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iPad Screenshots

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