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The Case for Soulver, and an App Between a Calculator and a Spreadsheet

The iOS counterpart of Soulver 3 just released — and is being discussed a bit over at the (excellent) Mac Power Users forum.

This post is (mostly) an answer to the following post there:

Soulver is a fun app to do simple math, but it is no substitute for a spreadsheet. Can it do any of this Numbers - Function list - Apple (AU)?

Can it graph data?

So I would buy it again if it was cheaper, but $35 for the Mac app plus another $34 for the iOS apps is definitely not worth it to me. I’ll keep using my free, constantly improving Numbers app.

Plus it took 5 years to finally recreate the iOS apps? Seriously? Why would I trust this developer after borking a perfectly good iOS app and taking so long to finally add it back to the App Store.

I think you’re misunderstanding

… what Soulver is trying to be,

even though you mention “a fun app to do simple math”.

When discussing solving math problems, different complexity levels make us turn to different tools. I’d say it usually looks something like this:

  • Very simple → In your head
  • Simple → A calculator (app)
  • Medium to complex → A spreadsheet app

Now, you could say “why would anyone use a calculator, when a spreadsheet is so much more powerful??” - but usually using tools that are overkill is less convenient. Soulver isn’t trying to replace spreadsheets in the list above - their theory is that there’s room for a tool between a calculator and a spreadsheet. (Typically for “back of a napkin” maths). So their theory is this:

  • Very simple → In your head
  • Simple → A calculator (app)
  • Medium → Soulver
  • Complex → A spreadsheet app

Now, people’s breaking points for the different categories are different. 1 How much we do the different types of maths also varies greatly from person to person. And I assume that you’re very accustomed to Numbers, so firing it up to make a quick-and-dirty spreadsheet probably doesn’t involve much friction. But I think Soulver’s idea here is solid, and a valid idea and market for an app.

As a maths teacher, I, of course, love my spreadsheets - but most people don’t! (Even though I’m doing my best…) For most people, it’s really like this:

  • Very simple → In your head
  • Simple → A calculator (app)
  • Medium to complex → Nah, never mind 🙅🏻‍♂️

And then this would be a nice upgrade:

  • Very simple → In your head
  • Simple → A calculator (app)
  • Medium → Soulver
  • Complex → Nah, never mind 🙅🏻‍♂️

Re: Pricing

This touches on a different post as well, that was a reply to me saying it was actually a good thing that the new iOS app is a separate purchase. This one:

I guess there’s some flexibility to it being offered separately for each platform, but I prefer to have apps available across all platforms as a single purchase (possibly with a bit of a discount). Not a major obstacle, though, but it still ends up being rather expensive, especially when AI can nowadays answer most of the simple math questions using natural language for free.

This is the cost structure:

  • Mac: $35
  • iPad: $20
  • iPhone $14

I think that is pretty fair, and pretty well-adjusted for how useful it is on the different platforms. You also get all versions with a Setapp sub 🖇️.

So, in total, it’s $69 for a lifetime purchase. I can agree that it would be nice to get a discount if you bought all, say $60. 2 But I don’t think “$60 for all as the only option” is better than the current offering - which is the case when only a universal purchase is possible. This would make it a much worse deal if you knew you only want to use it for your Mac, or you simply don’t own an iPad.

Now, you might say “no, I don’t want the only option to be $60 for everything, but $35 for everything!”. But while saying it should be significantly cheaper than what it is today is perfectly valid - it’s not the same as discussing universal purchase. How we pay for something is a (slightly) different discussion than how much we pay.

  1. And also affected by if you’re using the default calculator app or the best one 😎 (PCalc is “only” second best!). ↩︎

  2. But I don’t even know how easy that is to do within the App Store? ↩︎