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 17the 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, there are many types of calculators available in the market that features 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 the electronic calculators powered by solar cells mounted on the devices.
Nowadays, most 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 now widely used in brain development programs. Studies have proved that Abacus learners use both sides of the brain: right and left hemisphere.
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
The 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 extra-large display for reading, recheck functions to confirm errors, and On-display indication of active constant to reduce chances of manual error. Some of them also come with dedicated keys for calculation of price with tax, and for grand total calculation.
3. Scientific Calculators
A scientific Calculator with a two-tier LCD, in which the upper dot-matrix portion displays input formula and symbols
Scientific calculators are specially designed to solve problems in science, engineering, 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 of them have 10- to 12-digits with extra digits for the floating-point arithmetic.
Generally, the high-end scientific calculators feature Boolean math, hexadecimal calculations, fractions, and probability calculations, complex numbers, physicals constants, unit conversion, calculus, and matrix calculations.
4. Graphing Calculators
In certain contexts, scientific calculators have been replaced by graphing calculators. They can plot graphs, solve simultaneous equations, and carry out tasks with variables.
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.
Compared to basic calculators, they have large displays to show several lines of text, figures, and calculations at the same time. In fact, most graphing calculators are also programmable, which means users can create customized programs for specific scientific or engineering applications.
Some of these calculators can also be connected to instruments such as electronic accelerometers, pH gauges, electronic thermometers, 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. Also, users can connect it with a computer for even greater functionality.
5. Printing Calculators
Printing calculators were pretty popular before personal computers were present in every home. They are basic calculators that print results onto a paper along with displaying them on an LCD screen.
At present, 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 checking: black (shows positive values) and red (shows negative value).
6. Online Calculators
Nowadays, many 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 measure 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 a calorie calculator, can help people figure out how many calories they should be eating per day to either lose or maintain weight.