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Math sandbox also makes concept maps

October 27, 2012

Oovium is a “calculation sandbox” app for iPad and iPhone. It’s an object-oriented visualization widget that’s hard to categorize, mixing tools for calculation, concept mapping, and programming. This is a unique and fascinating app and, although it could be a useful tool for teaching and learning, it’s also likely to mystify a casual user.

When you first enter Oovium (OO -vyum) you see an “aether” (EE-ther) – their name for a document in the form of an expandable canvas. You can place four types of objects – referred to as “bubbles” – on an aether:

  1. InstBub – a number, which may be the result of an expression.
  2. MechBub – a function.
  3. GridBub – a chunk of spreadsheet
  4. TextBub – a concept map node

Bubbles can be connected, adding “inputs” and “outputs” that render calculations visually. The functions you build can be saved in libraries and reused. You can also connect TextBubs to create a concept map. However, if all you want to do is concept mapping I would use other software.

Oovium screen shot

The first edition of the app was released in 2009 and, according to the Aepyrus Software website, this is only the first of six phases; “It is a highly ambitious project with much more planned.” People have asked about other platforms, but so far none have appeared. The app is sold in three flavors: Full ($9.99), Mind Mapper ($5.99), and A la Carte ($0.99). I purchased and explored the full version.

I started trying to learn the app on a plane and found the built-in help very limited. I was able to figure out some things by trial and error, but it wasn’t long before I got stuck. For example, there is no built-in tutorial on the use of functions, a powerful component. Later on, with access to the Internet, I went to  the website. It looks amateurish, but contains FAQs and a series of YouTube videos. The best place to find answers is in the discussion forums.

There are two background choices – black with a faded green design or white. The only place where this setting can be adjusted is outside of Oovium in the settings app. In fact, many aspects of Oovium’s interface are unlike other apps. From what I hear about the App Store approval process, I’m surprised it passed inspection. I read some of the forum posts and it’s clear that the developer is not in a hurry to make the interface more standard or to provide better documentation. He’s happy to answer questions, though.

Oovium is definitely built for folks who are mathematically inclined. It’s a shame that they haven’t done more to make it accessible and appealing to casual users. Some more short built-in tutorials would be a start, as would better built-in help. It would be nice to also be able to change parameters like font type and size, or line thickness. Oovium receives favorable ratings in the app store and I give it a lukewarm thumbs-up myself – 3 stars out of 5. Mathematicians, engineers, and programmers should definitely take a look. Just understand that it has a way to go in the ease-of-use department.

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