You may recall that I was slightly busy from shortly before Will was born until early October. Well, my big project was finally released yesterday. The Wolfram|Alpha iPhone application is now available in the iTunes app store.
The app has generated quite a lot of buzz over the past 24 hours, mostly because the price is significantly greater than the vast majority of iPhone applications. While I was intimately involved in the development of the application, I am completely in the dark about the business and marketing side of the product. On the bright side, most of the reviews speak relatively highly of the app itself, even though many are quite critical of the price.
Since I work primarily on Mathematica, I’ve been fairly uninvolved with the Wolfram|Alpha project prior to this iPhone app. I’m still not an expert on innards of Wolfram|Alpha but I do understand the big picture a little better than I did before.
If you’ve never used Wolfram|Alpha before, go ahead and give it a try on the website. It’s kind of hard to describe what it does, simply because it’s not like any other application you’ve ever used before. Despite certain visual similarities to web search engines like Google or Yahoo, Wolfram|Alpha is not a search engine. It doesn’t find web pages that might be related to your query, it computes factual answers to your query (except when it doesn’t).
Typically this means your query must be constructed in a slightly different way (perhaps using slightly different language) than you would use for a search engine. It’s worth taking the time to experiment to see what works and what doesn’t work. Perhaps my best description of Wolfram|Alpha is that it is a combination of a calculator and an encyclopedia.
The iPhone app features optimized input and output for the interesting and useful Wolfram|Alpha computation engine.
W|A knows all sorts of interesting facts. For instance, Robert was a more popular given name than William in the U.S. for most of the 20th century (though William recently overtook Robert… a sign of things to come?).
The app provides a number of ways to share the interesting results you find. Click the “share” button in the upper-right corner, or press and hold on a result.
The app also has numerous built-in examples to help you get started.
It also contains a complete history of all your queries.
Many of the computations have parameters that can be fine tuned for more precise results.
So there you have it. The app was a lot of fun to write, even if the release schedule was a bit hectic. The next version should be even better.