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PhotoMath: Has Math’s Time Come?

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 11.01.09 PMIt’s here, everyone.

The app that allows you to cut out math altogether. PhotoMath bills itself as a mobile application that gives you insight into how problems are solved while providing a safety net of answers thanks to the camera on your smartphone. Simply download the free application, open it up, give it permission to access your camera, and then use it to solve problems in a textbook and get a full explanation of why the answer is what it is.

Any kid who has ever struggled to complete his homework in time for class will rejoice as will many adults who’ve long since forgotten the difficult concepts that math poses.

But as remarkable as PhotoMath is, is it really a good thing or something that takes us further away from where we need to be as a society? For answers, let’s look at some of the pros and cons.

Pros: PhotoMath enables one to get the right answer to whatever math problem is thrown at them just by pointing the camera.

Aside from the obvious perk of never having to worry about getting anything less than an A on homework, this is good because it doesn’t just stop at the right answer. It actually allows the student to see how the answer was derived. For a student to have access to that outside the classroom when a teacher isn’t available, is remarkable.

Cons: PhotoMath will probably be used more as a cheat app than a learning tool.

To this, I think back to high school and my own hatred for numbers and word problems that involved numbers. I was an English guy through and through and too ignorant to know all the ways that math might affect my day-to-day life. I’d followed the old adage of “doing what you love” instead of “doing what is marketable.” Luckily, PhotoMath wasn’t around back then. If it had been, I would have never used my brain to figure out complex problems and develop my analytical mind — something that has served me well in life. With PhotoMath, I fear the natural urge of students will be to get the right answers and ignore the explanations.

Pros: PhotoMath is capable of reading a wide range of math problems.

Pretty much if you learn something in grade school, junior high, or high school, PhotoMath will figure it out for you. While most textbooks will give answers in the back of the book, they don’t go as far as showing you how the answer came to be. It’s normally up to you to show your work, and if you have no clue of where to start, then apps like this one make it easier to take your time, break it down, and come to the realization necessary for working future problems.

Cons: PhotoMath doesn’t do handwriting.

Trying to come up with your own problems for further study? Well, hopefully you’re capable of typesetting because this application has a rather difficult time reading actual handwriting. While other apps such as Evernote have made it possible to search images for words, it’s still a little challenging to learn handwriting patterns, and of the apps on the market that I’ve actually used, none have done an adequate job of learning my writing style without numerous mistakes. Therefore, you’ll have to stick with the book and your worksheets to make good use of it.

Pros: PhotoMath is free.

Who doesn’t like free stuff? Plus, if this application is used correctly, it’s like hiring your own personal tutor without having to pay them anything and while setting your own “tutoring hours.” No more being beholden to those pesky people with lives for getting the math help that you need!

Cons: PhotoMath is free.

Cheaters have an even smaller barrier to entry to keep cheating themselves out of an education.

So how is PhotoMath doing for the people actually using it?

Quota user Juan Carlos said the app had trouble performing reliably.

“I love the app in theory but have had a lot of trouble getting it to perform (recognize that ‘z’ is not ‘2,’ for instance) reliably.  Also, once the photograph has been assessed, there is no way that I can tell to fix the mis-scans (for instance to change ‘2’ to ‘z’).  But my biggest problem with the app is its inability to read very, very neat human writing.  That was its original downfall for me; however, the mis-scans became too much of a chore to even continue using the app, unfortunately.  It’s a wonderful idea that I hope will develop further.  I will keep the app on my iPhone in hopes that its development conquers these issues.”

A YouTube user with questionable intentions had this to say of it:

“I download[ed] it, [tried] it and I’m a little disappointed. It takes me like 2-3 minutes to tell … how to make the … math problem. For this time my teach[er] will [catch] me, take my phone and write me an F. … It can be the light or the focus. I don’t even know. I have a Windows Phone, just like the video.”

If you’re using it in a situation where the teacher catching you is a bad thing, then you are probably up to no good. Therein highlights the good intentions of the PhotoMath people. They haven’t developed the app to help you cheat but to help you better understand complex mathematical problems.

While PhotoMath lends itself to abuse, the people who will get the most of it are the ones who don’t try to cut corners. We can certainly see the long-term value of a solution like this to helping America compete better in the world when it comes to STEM fields. However, the app is only half-baked at this point. It works some, yes, but there will be plenty of hiccups along the way, and cheaters are always going to misappropriate it. Nevertheless, it’s worthy of one’s time and consideration. I would suggest downloading it, playing with it from time to time just to stay in practice, then checking back regularly to see if the app’s reader function has gotten more advanced. Best of luck and let us know what your experiences are with it in the comments section.

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's work appears regularly here at 4tests.com and across the web for sites, such as The Inquisitr and Life'd. A former high school teacher, his passion for education has only intensified since leaving the classroom. At 4tests, he hopes to continue passing along words of encouragement and study tips to ensure you leave school ready to face an ever-changing world.

Website: http://aricmitchell.blogspot.com/

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One Response

  1. […] Maybe you’ve heard of it: PhotoMath, the app that does your Algebra homework. Take a picture of any linear equation and the app produces a step-by-step solution. Voices around the Internet hail PhotoMath as the app that “could revolutionize math.”  A Slate article declares that PhotoMath “will make Algebra class seem even more pointless.” One blogger calls it “the app that allows you to cut out math altogether.” […]

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