iTunes: Soulver for iPhone
Let’s face it, a lot of people who own an iPhone are completely satisfied with the stock utilities pre-installed by Apple. The vast majority of consumers have no beef with mail.app, the calculator, notepad etc. But then, there are the rest of us. The geeks. The crowd that recognizes the limitations of an application and sets out on a journey to find a replacement that is far more powerful, unrestricted and liberating. If you self-identify with this group, then you’ve long been fed up with Apple’s skeuomorphic calculator application. The iPhone itself solves so many problems in mobile computing. So why is it then, that the app that is entirely dedicated to literally solving problems on the device is restricted to one line input? What if you make a mistake? Hit clear? Start over? Why is it that an app aimed at calculating sums and solving equations, in the year 2012, looks and performs so much like a desktop calculator from the mid 80’s? That sounds completely out of line with what a ‘smart-phone’ should be, right? Well, geeks rejoice. Soulver is here to quite literally, solve all of your problems.
Upon launching Soulver, you will immediately notice that it is quite a departure from the typical calculator application. That’s because it is anything but typical. As opposed to linear calculations generated so that one result is replaced by another, Soulver is a running log of text and numbers living together in harmony. Neither fighting against one another for space on your screen, because, well, there’s room for everyone. The leftmost portion of the screen is dedicated to input, line by line, while the rightmost portion of the screen is dedicated to output, or solutions. As you type, Soulver makes a note of all numbers used within a line and whatever operations are requested between two sets of numbers. It disregards text when displaying solutions but leaves text fully intact within the written problem for greater point of reference should you ever need to return to the calculation again to make changes. Just as Acqualia describes its experience, Soulver is reminiscent of ‘back of the envelope’ scratch pad math. This makes your calculations much easier to understand if you happen to look back on them because, if you’ve chosen to use accompanying text, every number is displayed within a context. Solutions are calculated and displayed in real time, as you type, on the same line on which you performed a function and requested a solution. Soulvers ability to update in real time means that you can go back and alter one line of a file and watch all related information update to correspond with your changes. It means never having to ‘clear all’ when you need to change a small part of your calculation. Multiple keypads make standard text input, simple math, complex equations, formulas, currency conversions and variables all just a swipe away. Not just a calculator. More convenient than a spreadsheet. Not quite a notebook. It can only be described as a text editor on mathematical steroids. Though input takes some getting used to, the overall learning curve is not too steep.
Soulver’s developers are nothing short of brilliant. They recognized early on that although having access to so many functions makes Soulver unique, robust even, not everyone needs access to trigonometry functions such as sine, cosine, tangent etc. in their everyday life. That realization led to the ability to enable or disable Keypads within the settings to suit your specific needs. Options are a beautiful thing. Speaking of options, there are tons of them in Soulver’s settings. They range from text styling to formatting to sync options and currencies. Soulver also lets you control the number of ‘Scratch Files’ to save. These ‘Scratch Files’ are the calculations/logs that you have given a name to and chosen to save. These are the files you are more than likely coming back to to make updates or even as a point of reference.
While developing a website for a friend of mine, I wanted some concrete statistics on browser usage and the demographic using the browsers so that I had a good idea which browser his intended audience would be viewing the site from the most. So I decided to do a small sampling using a Facebook post to my friends and family. At the time this screen shot was taken, I had 25 responses. As you can see, the way Soulver is set up, I am able to revisit this file, much like a spreadsheet, to make changes and watch my numbers update accordingly. As each person gave their response, I added them to the browser category they fell into, with the number of participants as my very first line on my scratch file. Below the actual numbers and ‘tick marks’ I set up percentages using line references. You see ‘Chrome: line 2 as a % of line 1’ on the left and its corresponding percentage, 40%, on the right. I never have to revisit or edit that line. So long as I update line 1 everytime I receive a new response and add it to the list, the percentage of Chrome users will update automatically. I found this process far less intimidating and far more efficient than your classic spreadsheet. It just feels like a more natural way of interacting with data. Not to mention, I could update it on the go, which is becoming increasingly important in all aspects of our lives as time goes on.
Though the above is just a tiny example of the power harnessed within Soulver, it’s easy to see how extremely convenient and logic-driven the application is. Its versatility is endless, limited only by your imagination, for the most part. I have used Soulver to lay out a grocery budget, convert multiple currencies, track calories for the day and even create an itemized expenditure report for my upcoming wedding (you dodn’t really expect me to link to that, did you?); each as simple as the other, believe it or not. If you are a Soulver for Mac user, you will miss some of the features you are used to such as easy reference to stock prices. Since I have only ever used the iPhone app, and do not own or trade stock, I have no qualms about its feature set as-is; it suits my needs quite nicely. That said, I would’t be the least bit upset if Acqualia decided it was time to handle unit conversions on the iPhone. In fact, given the way Soulver handles text and numbers together, as natural language input, it would be the perfect kitchen companion.
In the end, Soulver can be as simple as you’d like, yet complex as you need it to be. Simple math, trigonometry, binary, currency conversion, and more, are all at your fingertips. So why settle for a calculator app that limits you? C’mon baby, step into twenty twelve with me; get yourself a real calculator; a 21st century calculator… a text editor on mathematical steroids. You won’t regret it.
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