The calculators we know today were first invented in the 1960s, and the use of smartphones as calculators began in the 1990s. However, that does not mean that mathematical tools weren’t available a century ago.
Several computing machines were made long before the arrival of digital calculators and smartphones. The abacus, for example, was used in the ancient Near East, Europe, Russia, and China, long before the adoption of the written Hindu-Arabic numeral system.
The first ‘true calculator’ was invented by Blaise Pascal in 1642. It was praised for attempting arithmetic calculations that were previously thought impossible.
Mechanical calculators in the 17th century were comparable in size to typewriters and have been rendered obsolete by the advent of portable electronic calculators.
Modern electronic calculators are used to carry out various tasks, ranging from basic arithmetic to complex mathematics. They have not only enhanced our ability to perform basic computations but provided us with the ability to understand mathematics on a greater scale than ever imagined.
Today, various types of calculators are available in the market that feature different power sources, designs, and functions. One can put them into three categories based on the source of power.
- Electric calculators: the old ones that work on electricity.
- Battery calculators: the current ones that use cells to do calculations.
- Solar calculators are electronic calculators powered by solar cells mounted on the devices.
Modern calculators use both battery and solar energy to perform operations. Below, we have listed all different types of calculators (currently available in the market) as per their usage purpose.
Abacus is a simple tool used to perform quick arithmetic calculations. It was invented in ancient times and is now widely used in brain development programs. Studies have proved that Abacus training can induce certain (positive) changes in the brain.
The word ‘abacus’ comes from the Greek word ‘abax,’ which meant ‘counting table.’ The device is usually made of a rectangular wooden frame that holds multiple vertically arranged rods on which beads slide up and down. Each rod represents a unique place value, while each bead represents a number.
The device helps children carry out calculations in mind by visualizing Abacus bead movements. It also improves their concentration levels. It is especially helpful for visually impaired people who cannot use digital calculators.
2. Basic Calculators
Basic, portable calculators are used in almost every office and home. They are perfect for doing general-purpose calculations and basic math tasks, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponentiation, and logarithm.
This type of calculator usually includes an 8- to 12-digit display (LCD seven-segment display) and physical keys for input. They run on both battery and solar energy: the battery is used when light is insufficient and solar energy is used when there is enough light to run the device.
Some basic calculators feature an extra-large display for reading, recheck functions to confirm errors, and an on-display indicator of active constant to reduce the chances of manual error. Some also come with dedicated keys for quickly calculating square roots, taxes, and percentages.
3. Scientific Calculators
A scientific Calculator with a two-tier LCD, in which the upper dot-matrix portion displays input the formula and symbols
Scientific calculators are specially designed to solve problems in science, engineering, and mathematics. Some of these calculators include statistical and trigonometric calculations, and some even have the ability to perform computer algebra.
The first scientific calculator, named HP-9100A, was manufactured in 1968. Since then, thousands of portable and handheld scientific calculators have been invented by various companies. Currently, Casio is a major player in this market.
They are widely used to solve specific mathematical functions and perform calculations on very small or very larger numbers, as in some aspects of chemistry, physics, and astronomy.
While most models consist of a single-line display similar to basic calculators, some have 10 to 12 digits with extra digits assigned for floating-point arithmetic.
Generally, high-end scientific calculators feature Boolean math, hexadecimal calculations, fractions, probability calculations, complex numbers, physical constants, unit conversion, calculus, and matrix calculations.
4. Graphing Calculators
In a few very specific fields, scientific calculators have been replaced by graphing calculators. They can plot graphs, solve simultaneous equations, and carry out tasks with variables. Compared to basic calculators, they have large displays to show several lines of text, figures, and calculations at the same time.
The first commercial graphing calculator, fx-7000G, was released by Casio in 1985. Since then, many advanced calculators have been manufactured with faster processors, more memory, and a USB connection. Today, Texas Instruments and Casio hold the majority of the calculator market.
Most graphing calculators are also programmable, which means users can create customized programs for specific scientific or engineering applications.
A few can be connected to instruments such as electronic accelerometers, pH gauges, electronic thermometers, and weather devices, and thus function as data loggers.
The latest graphing calculators come with high-resolution LCD screens and fast CPUs to perform the most complex graphics and calculations. Users can write and store programs to automate an elaborate procedure. Moreover, users can connect it to a computer to extend its functionality.
5. Printing Calculators
Printing calculators were pretty popular before personal computers were present in every home. They are basic calculators that print the result onto paper along with displaying it on an LCD screen.
Printing calculators are available in both desktop and portable models running on batteries and/or AC power. They are mostly used by shopkeepers and accountants to print bill receipts, calculate profit margins, and track time for payroll.
They come with a roll of paper inside the printer, on which all records are printed. Some calculators can print in two colors for easy readability: black (shows positive values) and red (shows negative values).
6. Online Calculators
Nowadays, various types of calculators can be accessed on the Internet. They are designed to perform specific tasks. BMI calculator, for example, takes weight and height as input and measures body mass index.
Similarly, pregnancy calculators are designed to predict a woman’s due age based on key pregnancy information. Other online calculators, such as calorie calculators, can help people figure out how many calories they should eat per day to lose or maintain weight.
7. Formula Calculator
Formula calculators, also known as formula evaluators or software calculators, determine all the intermediate values before computing the final result.
They require the user to enter an expression via the keyboard. This expression may involve infix notation for binary operators like addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. It may also include symbols and non-commutative operators that must be applied in an appropriate order.
The calculator analyzes the formula and splits it into small parts, such as parentheses, numbers, and operators. It evaluates every part individually and then calculates the final value.
Many software programs, including Databases and Spreadsheets, come with formula-calculation capability. This means users can simply write formulas specifying what to do (without having to perform step-by-step calculations).
More to Know
How advanced are modern scientific calculators?
Modern scientific calculators can perform operations on complex numbers and constants like e and pi, and calculate trigonometric functions, logarithmic functions, exponential functions, and roots beyond the square root.
High-end scientific calculators support Boolean mathematics, calculus, statistics and probability calculations, matrix calculations, the conversation of units, and much more.
Graphing Calculator Market Size
According to the research published on ReportLinker, the global calculators market size will increase by $374.2 million from 2022 to 2026, growing at a CAGR of 4.15% during the forecast period.
The development of tech-enabled calculators (for disabled students) and next-generation scientific calculators (for solving specific complex problems) will lead to significant demand in the market.