Calculators and Mobile Devices for Biostatistics

Over the years, as computing has moved from mainframes to minicomputers to personal computers to hand-held devices (calculators, tablets, and smartphones), statistical software has undergone a similar migration. Today you can find statistical software for just about every intelligent (that is, computerized) device there is (with the possible exception of smart toasters).

Scientific and programmable calculators

Many scientific calculators claim to perform statistical calculations, although they may entail no more than calculating the mean and standard deviation of a set of numbers that you key in. Some of the newer scientific calculators also handle correlation and simple linear regression analysis.

Programmable calculators like the TI-83 and HP 35s aren't limited to the calculations that are hard-wired into the device; they let you define your own special-purpose calculations, and therefore can perform almost any computation for which a suitable program has been written.

Mobile devices

Mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, and similar devices) are rapidly becoming the "computer of choice" for many people (according to Mashable.com, 6 billion cellphones were active worldwide in 2011). Indeed, for tasks like e-mail and web browsing, many people find them to be more convenient than desktop or even laptop computers. Perhaps the main reason for their incredible popularity is that they can run an astounding number of custom-written applications, or apps.

Statistics-related apps are available for all the major mobile platforms — Apple iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry. These range from simple calculators that can do elementary statistical functions (such as means, standard deviations, and some probability functions) to apps that can do fairly sophisticated statistical analyses (such as ANOVAs, multiple regression, and so forth).

Prices for these apps range from zero to several hundred dollars. One example is the free StatiCal (short for Statistical Calculator) app for Android systems, which can evaluate the common probability functions and their inverses; calculate confidence intervals; and perform t tests, simple ANOVAs, chi-square tests, and simple correlation and regression analyses.

As of this writing, a tablet or cellphone isn't the ideal platform for maintaining large data files, but it can be very handy for quick calculations on summary data where you need to enter only a few numbers (like chi-square tests on cross-tab tables, or power calculations).

The mobile environment is changing so rapidly that recommending specific apps is challenging. Go to the "app store" for your particular device (for example, Apple's iTunes App Store or Android's Play Store), and search using terms like statistics, statistical, anova, correlation, and so on.

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