Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Doing math on iOS

In this post, I describe my experience using various apps to do mathematical computations. This is focused on the kind of mathematics that arises in K-14 classes, and not research-level work.

Here is the list of iOS apps I have tried for doing math of various sorts on my iPad:
  • TI-Nspire CAS is the most valuable app for the iPad. Although it is pricey at $29.99, it is designed for extended exploration in a way that most other apps are not. This has been my go-to app in my work doing mathematical modeling (e.g., linear regression) with middle school teachers. Some of my favorite features include the ability to graph multiple functions or multiple regressions on the same graph and the ability to export files to Dropbox or elsewhere. The export feature allows me to input data to a spreadsheet and share it, thereby saving everyone else from entering data (and making typos).
  • Wolfram Alpha is versatile, as long as one is interested in looking at one object at a time. By this I mean that one can easily graph any function or set of functions, plot a data set and perform regression, or do standard calculations, but it is not possible to store the results within the app. Instead, it is necessary to take screenshots or copy-paste information to another location (Evernote, for example). The app also makes it difficult to edit information because it is not possible to scroll through a long command line that has been entered. On the other hand, if given an equation, it can show the steps involved in solving the equation. The app can also serve as a search tool to answer questions or provide information. The app requires an active internet connection at all times.
  • MyScript Calculator is a lot of fun for basic calculations. It transforms hand-written mathematics into typed math script and performs the calculations indicated. It should be noted that getting formatting correct is sometimes difficult, say if there is a rational expression with exponents in the denominator, but it works well for quick scratch calculations.
  • Geogebra is a spectacular app for the desktop or laptop, but the iOS app has a long way to catch up. What is missing are the settings. For instance, I have never found a way to use a non-square scaling, such as I might need for an exponential function, where the outputs grow much faster than the inputs. Neither does there seem to be a way to adjust the labels (e.g., to show the label on a function), or to display a table of values. Unlike the Nspire or Wolfram, Geogebra does not render 3-dimensional graphs. Still, the app is free, and is good for a lot of Euclidean geometry and 2-dimensional graphing, and it offers sliders for dynamic exploration as well.
The following are apps that I have used, but not extensively:
  • Geometry Pad uses the freemium model. I have used only the free version, which includes the ability to draw basic geometric objects. The premium version adds a lot of features, including the ability to do calculations, graph functions, and a lot more.
  • Sketch2Graph takes a hand-drawn graph, converts it to a plot of a linear or quadratic function or conic section, and outputs the equation describing the plot. The function graph can then be manipulated by hand. This enables some nice exploration of these graphs and the relation between the graph and the equation.
  • Algebra Tiles is designed for illustrating or manipulating algebra tiles in an app. The interface has three modes, basic, equations, and factors. This app works as a tool, and is not built to give practice problems nor does it show how to use the tiles. It does serve as a functional replacement for using actual tiles.
Readers, what have I missed?


  1. This is a great list! You're the app master! I agree that Nspire is the best app out there, albeit a pricey one. Pocket CAS is a cheaper alternative at $9.99 right now but it's nowhere near as powerful or easy to use. I also use Desmos from time to time and Vernier Graphical Analysis.

    1. Thanks for the leads. I have Desmos, but it doesn't have the capabilities that the TI has. I might look at the others.