PhotoMath can solve any equation in a textbook just by looking at it with your phone’s camera, and will show you how it got to the solution.
The developer calls it the world’s first camera calculator. Some call it cheating. Others call it a valuable tool for a parent helping with his kid’s math homework and attempting to remember grade-school arithmetic or middle-school algebra. With PhotoMath, you can simply snap a picture of a math equation and it instantly delivers the answer, while also providing step-by-step instructions on how to solve it.
As with any calculator tool, its power could be harnessed for evil. Students will certainly use PhotoMath to do the heavy lifting for them, scanning their math homework with the app and scribbling down the answers without learning the concepts.
Used the right way, however, PhotoMath can help students check their work and show them how to arrive at the correct answer. And it can help parents brush up on math lessons learned long ago. Here’s how it works:
There are four buttons at the bottom of the screen: History, Light, Steps, Help. The History button shows you your recent scans. The Light button turns on your phone’s LED, should you be doing your homework under the cover of darkness. The Steps button shows you the steps from the last equation you scanned. And the Help button shows PhotoMath’s brief tutorial which greets you when you first launch the app.
According to the developer, PhotoMath currently supports arithmetic expressions, fractions and decimals, powers and roots, and simple linear equations. Also, handwritten expression are not currently supported; you must scan printed equations from a math book or worksheet. In CNET’s brief testing, the app couldn’t scan equations from a laptop or tablet display. And with basic algebra equations, it occasionally had trouble recognizing the letter it was solving for (mistaking, for example, a “v” for an “x”), but it got the answer right.
PhotoMath is free and available for iOS and for Windows Phones. According to the developer, an Android version will be released in early 2015.