Calculating critiques of the Android and iPhone Calculator apps

To be blunt, the default Calculator app on the iPhone is really bad. Apple just replicated a standard/scientific calculator without adding any additional features. 

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This application basically ignores the infinite digital canvas offered by a smartphone. The big exceptions are rotating to access the scientific mode and copying results. 

For example, after choosing an operation, entering the second number causes the first one in the equation to disappear. On a physical calculator, the screen might not have enough space to show more than that, but a phone display certainly can.   

12 x 34 = 408

Another glaring absence is the lack of a tape, or history, feature. A smartphone can store every single equation you’ll ever enter, including when/the date, for the life of that device with no impact to storage whatsoever. 

Replicating a physical calculator might have been fine at the start of the smartphone era, but it’s a pretty wild choice today. 

In comparison, I think Google’s Calculator app is one of the best expressions of the Material You design language available. It looks simple, like Apple’s, while supporting more functionality and delightful flourishes.

By swiping down and shrinking the keys, which gracefully go from circles to pills, you get to see your last calculation. One neat aspect is how you can scroll the history and maintain access to the full calculator, while swiping down gives you the full feed.

The app, which is available for all Android devices, has a good large screen layout, which the iPad incredibly still lacks and Apple is apparently happy ceding to third-party apps, like the venerable PCalc. On Android tablets and Chromebooks, you get a persistent History column at the very left.

If Apple made a Calculator for the iPad, it should just have the same basic layout as Google’s. Additionally, that design should come to macOS. The current version has a tape that opens as a separate window, which is annoyingly not the same size.

One thing Apple currently has going for it is a Watch app that has the same basic UI and even a tip function. Google had that at one point, but it has since been removed.

More advanced calculators have built-in unit converters, like Samsung’s. The macOS Calculator app offers this functionality (but buries it in a menu), while Google’s answer is having people use Search.

Apple not updating its Calculator app is just bizarre at this point.


One more thing… There’s no backspace key in the iOS Calculator. If you ever hit the wrong key, clearing the entire line is the only option.

Update: You can delete individual numbers by swiping left or right on the display! A backspace key would be much more obvious than this hidden gesture.

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