Sunday, October 30, 2011

Use Siri for Math on iPhone 4S

For people who recently bought Apple's new superphone, the iPhone 4S, one of the most compelling new features is the "virtual assistant" Siri.  It's a groundbreaking new app that does a pretty good job of understanding natural language spoken to it through the iPhone's mic, and then responding to you with some kind of acknowledgement or action.  Some of the cool things that Siri can do are highlighted everywhere in the news: send a text message to someone, call someone, setup an appointment or reminder.  In some countries (for now, only a few), Siri can even provide you with directions to a location, or understand things like "i'm hungry" and respond to you with nearby restaurants.  However, as useful as these functions are, one of Siri's less advertised features is an interaction with the knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha.

Wolfram Alpha works similarly to Google, but rather than returning a list of search results to a query, it actually attempts to answer your question with data in its gigantic fact database.  So, if you ask Wolfram Alpha "what is the fifth planet from the Sun" or "what is the capital city of Belgium," it will respond with "Jupiter" and "Brussels" as well as a boatload of information specifically about those entries.  Wolfram Alpha is truly amazing.  Now, if you put this together with Siri on the iPhone 4S, what you are able to do is simply ask Siri any factual question (without having to go into a browser or type out your question), it will query Wolfram Alpha for you, and then return the information you're looking for.

So, what does all of this have to do with math?  How does this allow you to use Siri for math on iPhone 4S?

Well, if you input math questions into Wolfram Alpha, it will come back with the answer.  This works especially well for unit conversions, or looking up constants, or working with math expressions.  Having the ability to simply ask Siri your math question, and have the app return the calculation for you is a remarkable shortcut to writing out and working through complex calculatons.  You don't even have to punch numbers into a calculator.  All you have to do is ask Siri your math questions, and it will return the solutions.

Of course this isn't going to TEACH you how to perform these calculations, but when you know about these math concepts already, this is an absolutely fantastic math shortcut that means you don't have to do the hard work!  Check out some of the ways that you can use Siri for math on iPhone 4S.  These are just a few examples, and I'm sure you can find even more.  (And remember that Wolfram Alpha can handle all kinds of factual questions, so you're not restricted to asking Siri only math questions!)  Once you realize how powerful Siri is, you will find that it can be a very powerful, helpful, and convenient calculator!

Show you the value of mathematical constants:

Calculate percentages:

Calculate square roots:

 Calculate reciprocals:
Perform unit conversions:

Perform arithmetic on a string of integers:
Perform arithmetic on fractions:
Perform complex calculations:

If you notice in my pictures, Siri doesn't just respond with the answer, but also with a host of other data such as unit conversions or different presentations of data.  It will also always show you what it understood for the original question, so you can verify that it understood you correctly and actually performed the computations on the proper input.

Now, admittedly, Siri is not going to help you learn math any easier or faster.  You still need to put in time with the usual techniques... i.e. you still have to do your homework and study!  And, you won't be allowed to take your iPhone 4S and Siri with you into an exam any time soon.  Just imagine everyone in an exam room talking to their iPhones and all the Siri's talking back!  However, when you get to a point in your studies that you understand the math concepts being taught, and you've done plenty of practice to understand how to arrive at the correct answer, then having the ability to use Siri for math on iPhone 4S to quickly and accurately find what you need to know is incredibly valuable!  (Please hit the Google +1 below if you found this article useful!)


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