Manipulating math and stumping Siri


Competitors made Siri compatible with non-Apple devices.




Siri might soon be able to Venmo a friend.

The second and third place winners at this weekend’s PennApps competition developed apps meant to make daily life a little simpler. The second place app makes computerized math clearer and the third place app links iPhone’s Siri to non-Apple apps.

The winners were determined by four main criteria: originality, technical difficulty, polish and usefulness.

PipeTeX won the $2,000 second place prize. The app makes doing homework and taking notes in math classes easier by reformatting the syntax of mathematical symbols typed by a student on a computer.

Engineering sophomore Meyer Kizner and University of Washington sophomore Ty Overby created the app.

GoogolPlex took third place and a $1,000 prize. The app integrates third-party apps into Siri, iPhone’s voice-controlled user interface navigator.

A team of four freshmen from the Jerome T. Fisher Program in Management and Technology created the app based on an idea they developed over the weekend. Wharton and Engineering freshmen Ajay Patel , Alex Sands , Ben Hsu and Gagan Gupta had worked together during the fall PennApps competition.

“The problem is that right now people can only use Siri with certain commands and apps that Apple has programmed in — not third-party apps,” said Sands.

Hsu, a Daily Pennsylvanian staff member, said that by connecting Siri with third-party apps, GoogolPlex allows iPhone users to ask Siri to Venmo a friend, play a song on Spotify or post a picture on Instagram.

“Our goal coming into this PennApps was to focus on a more technical aspect, instead of a business idea,” Gupta said.

Patel explained that the team “wanted to place in the top.” However, he added, “As freshmen, we didn’t expect it.”

All four members of the GoogolPlex team had backgrounds in iOS, but each member contributed different skills. The team had “one developer that [stayed] up all night, a cold caller and a designer,” said Sands. The “cold caller” was responsible for pitching GoogolPlex to judges and company representatives at the event.

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The team does not plan to pursue GoogolPlex as a business venture. They see it as a “pretty flashy, cool” app, according to Hsu, and plan to make it openly available online.

Instead, the team plans to focus more on LoudCrowd, the app they developed at the PennApps hackathon last fall.

Patel, however, will be interning with Apple this summer — and specifically working on Siri. He recognized the irony of taking the job after hacking Siri this weekend.

Around 1,200 hackers came from around the world to participate in PennApps. Teams coded and hacked for 48 hours to develop apps like PipeTeX and GoogolPlex. On Sunday, teams demoed the apps to panels of judges.

Among the 220 submissions, the top three overall apps were awarded between $1,000 and $5,000. The first-place team also received prizes from sponsors, and awards were given to top teams in specific categories.

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