Wolfram release $50 alternative to web browser on iPhone

October 19th, 2009 | Categories: Android, iPhone, Wolfram Alpha | Tags:

I’m usually a big fan of Wolfram Research and their products but on reading the news that they had released a $50 iPhone app that hooked in to the Wolfram Alpha website I wondered if they had taken leave of their senses.  Let’s see why…

Wolfram Alpha is a web service that is based on the extremely powerful computer algebra system, Mathematica, and it is very VERY cool. I won’t go into detail about what it can do here since many,many people have done that before (including me) but for the uninitiated think of it as a super-powerful graphical calculator that (partially) understands plain English and also has access to massive datasets from areas as diverse as the stock market, chemistry, popular music, language and physics.

Many students I know focus on the fact that it can eat their math homework for breakfast – not only giving the answer but also giving all of the steps that you’d need to get full marks on your coursework. Mathematics educators in the know are scrambling to come up with ways to harness this new freely available computational power while those not in the know are wondering why their students all get straight As in their coursework and yet flunk their exams.

All in all it’s very good stuff and you may be forgiven for thinking that it’s worth $50 for an app that can do all that. I would agree with you except for one, tiny little detail.

You can get all of this stuff for free! From Wolfram themselves!

Don’t believe me? OK, let’s prove it. Mashable have just reviewed the shiny new Wolfram iPhone app and have given it a big thumbs up because the reviewer has focused on all of the awesome features that Wolfram Alpha has. Choose any one of those nice examples shown in the mashable review – any one you like. Now, fire up your favourite web browser, head over to the Wolfram Alpha website and type in the exact same query.

Tell you what. I’ll do it for you. One of the examples given for the $50 app solves a simple differential equation – click on this link (from your iPhone if it suits you) to see exactly the same results for free.

I did exactly this on my Android phone  and have included a screenshot for your delight and delectation (well, technically speaking I did it on the Android emulator since getting screenshots from an actual Android phone is tricky).  The Wolfram Alpha query below cost me nothing:

Wolfram Alpha on an Android browser

I would have had to pay $50 to get this next one using the new iPhone app.

Wolfram Alpha on an Android browser

So, let’s be very clear here, Wolfram aren’t selling you an app that puts the power of Wolfram Alpha in your iPhone – they are just selling you a browser alternative that can only hit one website! For $50.

Of course they don’t JUST give you a browser alternative – according to the comments section over at mashable, the new alternative to the ‘I am Rich‘ app also gives you a more math-friendly onscreen keyboard and a query-history as well as formatting the results a little nicer than the built in browser.

Maybe that’s worth $50 to you but if so then you have a lot more money than me.

Update 2nd June 2010: As pointed out in the comments, Wolfram have since reduced the price of the Wolfram Alpha app significantly.   At the time of writing it cost just £1.19 for iPhone and iPad versions of the software – now that’s more like it!

  1. October 19th, 2009 at 14:15
    Reply | Quote | #1

    Hi Mike,

    I also have the same reaction, and have mixed feelings about this application, the iPhone has such a great browser that i think this app is a bit useless. I think they should have made this software for phones that don’t have a great browser, so that they have the same experience as you would have on a normal computer.
    I probably won’t buy the app, unless there is some functionality in there that i’m not aware of.

    Best regards,


  2. Will Robertson
    October 19th, 2009 at 15:12
    Reply | Quote | #2

    I wonder if this indicates that Wolfram will be eventually moving Alpha to more of a paid model after testing the free version with a large number of people. Perfectly in their rights to do so, of course. And we’re perfectly within our rights to go back to using Google and whatever other information browsers become available (such as gapminder.org, which I find far more obvious albeit on a more limited data set than Alpha).

    It’s not that Alpha isn’t impressive; but hoarding data sets I feel isn’t a particularly valuable commodity.

  3. October 19th, 2009 at 15:33
    Reply | Quote | #3

    Well-put. I think the idea of creating an app that makes a company’s offering that much more sticky or easier to use is a great idea. But then charging $50 for it? This should have been no more than $4.99, and I’m sure even some will scoff at that. The $50 pricetag is an entirely separate discussion *if* access to Wolfram | alpha were via a paid subscription.

  4. Jason
    October 22nd, 2009 at 21:21
    Reply | Quote | #4

    This app is not even worth $1 – nor does it make sense to charge money to use a service that is otherwise free by iphone browser + wolfa.com + finger to navigate – Wolfram even created a friendly/optimized iphone web version for wolframalpha.com! why would u ever need the app?!

    Will Robertson brings up a good point that I hadn’t considered – what if the alpha stage is a segue way into a new paid service by Wolfram – But I really like to believe this is not the case but it is possible

  5. October 29th, 2009 at 12:48
    Reply | Quote | #5

    “wolfa.com” is an illegal mirror site not affiliated with wolframalpha.com.

  6. October 29th, 2009 at 14:49
    Reply | Quote | #6

    Hi Kathryn

    Thanks for letting me know. I’ve just checked it out and it looks like ‘wolfa.com’ is now blocked from accessing Wolfram Alpha’s database and rightly so IMHO.

    Best Wishes,

  7. G@0
    June 2nd, 2010 at 02:26
    Reply | Quote | #7

    It now sells for less than $2

    Btw, your blogs are really informative, and I’m reading all your mathematica archives…

  8. June 2nd, 2010 at 09:35
    Reply | Quote | #8

    Hi G@0

    Yes it does – I’ll update the blog post. Thanks for your kind comments and I’m glad you enjoy WR.