The iPhone’s original calculator was, to be blunt, a sad little thing. It performed the basic sort of functions that you’d find in your everyday $1 solar credit-card calculator. It was, at least in this writer’s opinion, pretty darned ugly.
Then Steve Jobs stood up on stage and announced, wonder of wonders, that the iPhone calculator was being upgraded as a part of the iPhone 2.0 software revolution! It would now be more advanced, handling various scientific functions.
And yet at that moment I knew that the little iPhone Calculator, try as it might to improve itself, was about to run into a buzzsaw of competition from third-party calculators. So here on the first day of the App Store’s existence, what do we find? Three alternatives to Apple’s built-in calculator, for those who scoff at a calculator that can do square-roots and logarithms but can’t input complex atomic constants or use Reverse Polish Notation (RPN).
For years—16 of them, in fact—perhaps the finest calculator on the Mac has been TLA Systems’ excellent PCalc. Its latest version (, October 2005) threw a Dashboard widget into the mix as well.
Now here comes PCalc for iPhone ($10 on the App Store), which transforms your iPhone or iPod touch into the coolest scientific calculator ever.In vertical orientation it looks like an attractive standard calculator, albeit one with conversions (the A->B button), constants (the 42, representing the Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything), and more. But hold your device horizontally and it becomes a powerful scientific calculator, complete with RPN mode, hex, octal, and binary modes, and a simulated paper tape for tracking calculations as you go.
Most impressive is that typing on the keys of the PCalc keyboard is exactly the same as typing on the iPhone keyboard, right down to the animation when you press a key. That’s not an easy task—it’s all done with custom code written by PCalc programmer James Thomson.
Daniel Staudigel’s TouchRPN is another new calculator focusing on RPN, but also providing built-in constants, unit conversion, and scientific calculator functions. It’s got a colorful set of buttons and costs $8 on the App Store.
Then there’s David M. Syzdek’s RPNCalc, a $5 RPN calculator that borrows the look of Apple’s calculator but appropriates it for a calculator that’s oriented around using RPN for your calculations.
Stay tuned to Macworld, where we’ll be reviewing all of these apps, crunching the numbers and giving you advice about which one’s best.