Early reviews of Wolfram Alpha‘s iPhone application, which appeared in the App Store over the weekend, have been pretty positive, but the $49.99 price is decidedly not a hit with bloggers.
The app is basically an iPhone- and iPod-Touch friendly interface for Wolfram Alpha, the online service that answers factual questions. There are some built-in favorite queries that give some idea of the range of possible answers, from “integrate x sin x log x” to “Big Mac + fries + coke.” The app includes many more examples, plus a way to save your own favorite queries and view your history.
All in all, it’s a solid package. But I wouldn’t even think about paying $50 for it.
Does my opinion matter, though? The company describes the app’s target audience as “the most serious users” (a group that I’m not part of), and it’s pitching the app as a substitute graphing calculator (a device I don’t use). Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber praises the move as a counterweight to the more common App Store development model, which discourages “deep, significant applications” that are worth a significant amount of money.
While I’m sympathetic to Gruber’s point, and I certainly don’t mind paying for substantive apps, TechCrunch’s MG Siegler and others have made a compelling case that $50 is just too high. Yes, it’s cheaper than a graphing calculator, but a graphing calculator doesn’t need an Internet connection. And, yes, it’s definitely an improvement on accessing the free Wolfram Alpha site on your phone, but it doesn’t feel like $50-worth of an improvement.
I’m guessing we’ll see the price drop eventually, but I think the current pricing is a worthwhile experiment. The price might also be undercut by an outside developer, making use of the Wolfram Alpha technology that the company just made public via an application programming interface.