Revisiting math software on the iPad

Now that the iPad has been out for about 3 months and I have had mine for a bit longer than 2 months, I’m going to revisit math software on the iPad. I previously did a couple of blog entries on the subject:

What is the state of math software available in the Apple App Store for the iPad?

Here’s my lightning review of most of the titles: pretty bad.

I’ll break the apps down into categories and highlight several I think are worthwhile:

  • Math apps for teaching really little children how to do simple arithmetic. I’ll admit I haven’t looked at all of them, but make sure you ask your child if  he or she thinks the app is inane before you purchase it.
  • Calculator HD for iPadCalculators, lots and lots of calculators. Too many calculators. Some of these fall under the sub (or super?) category of “my first iPad app.” Since Apple provides a calculator for the iPhone but not for the iPad, evidently tens of people think this is a huge market opportunity. There’s only so much you can do with a calculator. I use the Calculator HD for iPad and I think it’s pretty elegant and worth the $.99.If you are an HP or TI calculator aficionado you have several choices, so look around. You have quite a few options if you don’t want to pay anything, so I suggest you start by trying out several of the freebies first. You’ll develop criteria pretty quickly for what is junk and what isn’t.
  • Limited apps that do simple high school math like computing greatest common divisors or solving some simultaneous equations. You need a whole lot of these to cover the basic algebraic operations. I can’t imagine many of these took too long to write.
  • Math SheetFancy calculators with alternative user interfaces. My choice in this category is Math Sheet. It’s not quite perfect: I don’t know how to use a previous result in a later calculation and it doesn’t support big, arbitrary precision integers. It uses the iPad screen real estate well and it’s free.
  • Really nice graphing apps. These really give you insight into graphs, especially 3D ones. My favorite is Quick Graph for $1.99. Here’s some advice from a former mathematician and math teacher: you really, really need to understand equations and their graphs to do well in pre-calculus and calculus. Don’t try to shortcut and learn the minimum necessary. If you learn it well, your geometric intuition will help your algebraic and analytical problem solving, and vice-versa.
  • Kitchen sinks. These are ports of desktop apps to the iPad. They are often expensive because the authors, I would guess, are afraid of cannibalizing their desktop markets. I suspect they will get subsetted and will change to better use the iPad user interface if they are to survive.
  • Numbers. This is a mini version of the Apple iWork spreadsheet for $9.99. If you don’t expect it to do everything its older and bigger sibling can do, I think you’ll be impressed. Check out the sample new spreadsheet documents  to see its power.

I’m still waiting for an iPad version of Maple or Mathematica. Having been part of a team that built a computer algebra system, I know it will be a lot of work to bring a credible one to the iPad. As with many apps, they will really need to take advantage of the multitouch interface. Otherwise they might just look like today’s batch of kitchen sink apps, see above.

Also see:

5 Comments

  1. By the terms of the iPhone SDK agreement, you could _not_ do Mathematica or Maple or Matlab on iOS, since they dynamically parse and interpret their input.

  2. Wolfram Alpha is among other things a front end to Mathematica. Works well for me. SInce it is only a front end it may not meet your definition of an application, but I think it deserves mention.

  3. @Joel, I don’t count it because you could pretty much use a browser to access a backend system, so I don’t consider it a native app.

  4. @Larry, My sense is that the agreement does not restrict dynamically parsing and interpreting the input, but restricts dynamically parsing and interpreting the program itself. No?

  5. Hi Bob,
    Have you ever seen the i41CX+ app on the iPhone/iPod Touch? It has a built-in CAS that is based on the open source “Reduce” system. I’ve contacted the author of i41CX+ and he is working on a new version for the iPad – but I get the sense that he is working to do something nice instead of just rushing out the update quickly.

    Here is a link where you can find more info:

    http://alsoftiphone.com/i41CXplus/faq/#CAS

    Best Regards,

    Kevin

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