WolframAlpha: The Answer To All Your Questions

Since being released in 2009, Wolfram Alpha has become very popular over the years. Based on the computational platform Mathematica, written by British scientist Stephen Wolfram in 1988, WolframAlpha is capable of interpreting and answering basic questions such as, “How old was FDR in 1942?” and “What is the distance between the north pole and the south pole?”

A service like this is already accessible to iPad users via the website, however, the app provides a much simpler and more convinient approach to solving all your problems. With the price drop putting it from $50 to $2, do we have a bargain on our hands?

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The WolframAlpha System

WolframAlpha delivers fact and aims to inform. Vague questions such as, “Was Michael Jordan present in the NBA Playoffs this year?” and “Which shirt will I wear today?” result in a failed interpretation, and you’ll get a different answer or usually none at all to your question.

Another thing about the search engine is that questions have to be phrased correctly in order for them to be interpreted as such. My earlier example question asked “What is the distance between the north pole and the south pole?” but the important thing is that it’s written so that it’s very clear to see the meaning. Try the same question phrased as “What is the distance between the north and the south pole?” and you will have no relevant response. The difference is almost negligible when writing, but it’s crucial you phrase questions correctly if you want the answer to be so, too.

The questions you input don’t really have to be questions at all; you can strip away connectives and little details so that our earlier question is reduced to this: “distance north pole south pole,” and the answer will be correct. As long as the fundamentals of the question are there, the interpretation and therefore the answer will be the right one.

The App

The app employs a semi-minimalist approach in the way that it’s designed. It only has a single main screen predominantly taken up by the search bar and results from your search to the right. On the left is a useful array of features that includes your search history, favorite searches, about the app/company and even example searches to start you off.

The display upon startup

The display upon startup

Stephen Wolfram’s Mathematica has the underlying principle that any simple input can produce complex results, much like single-celled organisms eventually developed into the intricate and perplexing life that surrounds and encompasses us today. This principle is clearly evident in WolframAlpha. Some of the example searches show off WolframAlpha’s diversity and power as a search engine, from simple inputs like a birthday or a name, to the most complex of mathematical equations, this app is unparalleled in terms of sheer information.

Fourier transformations at work.

Fourier transformations at work.

Example searches are categorized into different fields, like Culture and Media, Colors and Transportation. Each offers an inside into the vast wealth of knowledge the app has at its disposal. I’ve found the search engine to be invaluable when researching topics for a report or just to look up meaningless facts and statistics merely for amusement.

There's a wealth of example searches in the categories to the left.

There’s a wealth of example searches in the categories to the left.

Search History can also be a useful function when required, as you may have forgotten previous entries where the results could be of use at the time. It’s not the best function in the world, but useful nonetheless. Equally of use is the Favorites function. Tap the Share button in the top right of the display, click Add to Favorites and your search will display in the corresponding tab on the left.

The Greek letter 'Xi'

The Greek letter ‘Xi’

One of the highlights of this app for me is the custom keyboard. Characters previously available through the 123 button are displayed on an annex of the standard keyboard along with other keys that can be of use whilst performing searches. Even if there’s a character you’ve never seen before, input it by itself into the search engine and you will get to know what it’s for.

Why Not Just Use the Website?

The thing is, you can. It works soundly in Safari and is free of charge. What I’ve found though is that the app is a lot more organized; you don’t have to jump from screen to screen to get categories and results because all the content is on that single home page. It certainly is a lot more convenient.

The app is designed for the iPad, so it would make sense that the app is far easier to use than the website. It looks better, too; while it’s not the most amazing UI in the world,  it fits perfectly with the theme of other default apps and is semi-minimalistic in the way it’s designed.

The most attractive reason to use the app over the website in my opinion is the custom keyboard. It’s extremely convenient to have all the mathematical and Greek symbols available when performing complex calculations that would otherwise be impossible, whereas doing this on the website requires for me a lengthy process of copying and pasting from other websites. This is a concept I think other apps should adopt as well due to the enhancement of the user experience.

Conclusion

Overall, you can see that the app has lots of things going for it, but none that warrant a $50 price tag, as WolframAlpha has clearly made note. With the new, far more reasonable price of $3.99, the app becomes a cheap and easy to use outlet for your mind to wander and explore the mysteries of life. It’s definitely worth a purchase if you use the search engine at all.


Summary

A cheap way to access all the perks of the WolframAlpha search engine in a stylish and organized manner.

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