The biggest highlight of the AI-powered iPad calculator is not arithmetic

After fourteen years, the iPad has received an "epic update" – a native calculator.

Apple executive Craig Federighi once said that he hopes that when users see (the iPad version of the calculator), they will say, "Wow, this is simply the best iPad calculator."

Nowadays, on the iPad, you can draw with Apple Pencil and solve the math problem immediately. Change the number and the answer will change accordingly. The difficulty will be upgraded. Once the function is recognized, the coordinate system will be automatically generated.

Why did it take 14 years for a calculator to be launched?

This is something that many people cannot understand. Is Apple waiting for the arrival of large models so that AI can be better integrated with them?

Then I can tell you with certainty that it is almost impossible, because mathematical ability is the shortcoming of today's large models. Math Notes relies on Apple's machine learning technology, but it has little to do with large models.

As for writing familiar calculations naturally, get results instantly in any format. Such applications actually appeared nearly 10 years ago. If Apple chose not to launch a native calculator back then, what would be different today?

The long-overdue calculator returns to its roots as an iPad

Calculator should have been on the iPad from day one, 14 years ago.

Going back to the end of 2009, when Jobs asked about the new design of the first-generation iPad calculator app, the head of Apple's software department at the time came up with a plan that was just to enlarge the iPhone's calculator.

The result is obvious. Such a calculator cannot pass through the eyes of Jobs and is destined to be strangled in the cradle.

We all know the story that followed. By the time Federighi took over, the "best iPad calculator" pie had been drawn all the way to the present.

Netizens with "faster Internet speed", I believe you have already tried the iPad calculator.

It has the same appearance as the iPhone calculator, but only when paired with the Apple Pencil, the charm of the iPad calculator really shines.

Putting aside conventional functions such as history recording, the Math Notes function is the highlight of the iPad calculator.

  • Handwriting recognition: Math Notes can recognize mathematical expressions written by users and automatically display the calculation results.
  • Variable value assignment: In scenarios such as classroom learning or budgeting, users can assign specific values ​​to variables and observe the relationship between variables.
  • Drawing capabilities: Users can handwrite or type equations and insert diagrams to visually represent their relationships.
  • Memo integration: The Math Notes function can also be used in the Memo app, allowing users to record math problems at any time.

After in-depth experience, you will find that its functions are somewhat "conflicting" with applications such as MyScript Calculator or Microsoft Math that APPSO once recommended.

However, MyScript Calculator was released as early as 2012. In other words, Apple has been planning a big move for fourteen years. Its core technological innovation seems to be a bit "old wine in new bottles", and it is still filled with other people's "old wine". ".

Although the functions are similar, MyScript Calculator has not caught up with the explosion of AI. It uses MyScript Interactive Ink technology.

This technology relies on real-time predictive handwriting recognition of artificial intelligence and neural network architecture, allowing the machine to learn the user's writing habits and perform fast and accurate recognition based on the user's input.

From handwritten calculations, calculation results can be changed in seconds, basic calculations to high-order functions, everything is covered in one place. This type of tool is not so much a calculator as it is a smart notepad with calculation functions.

In this era of multi-modal models flying everywhere, the barriers to building such calculators are no longer what they used to be.

Inspired by Apple's Math Notes, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon netizens created a simple version of the interactive drawing application called AI Math Notes.

Draw a mathematical equation on the canvas and the app calculates the result for you using a large multi-modal model and displays it next to the equal sign. The application is written in Python, the graphical user interface uses the Tkinter library, and the image processing uses the PIL library. The main focus is to do it yourself and have enough food and clothing.

The Github project address is here. If you are interested, you can check it out:

However, even if the above factors are taken as prerequisite facts, this calculator may still be worthy of the title of "the best calculator for iPad".

Whether it’s personal computers, smartphones, or wireless headsets, Apple has never been the first to try something new. It is better at bringing out innovative products that suit your appetite at the most appropriate time.

The birth of the iPad calculator followed a similar pattern. It came a little late, but it hit the heart of ecosystem innovation.

When you hover your Apple Pencil over any number, a ruler-like interface will appear. You can use your Apple Pencil to drag it left or right.

Depending on the direction of dragging, the selected number moves down or up. As the numerical value increases or decreases, the solution changes in real time.

This feature not only improves the overall writing experience, but more importantly, when paired with the Apple Pencil, the calculator successfully falls into place where the iPad was born.

In short, it allows users to enjoy greater freedom and expression than other Apple devices.

Arithmetic is not the greatest value of the iPad calculator

Math Notes are great for solving problem sets, or just dealing with the math problems we encounter every day.

At the WWDC2024 conference, Federighi did not hesitate to praise this calculator. Its shortcomings are also obvious.

For example, in the demonstration at the press conference, with the help of Math Notes function, you can set a budget for table tennis, and its range is inseparable from addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. When it comes to more complex mathematical problems, they are just functions such as calculating table tennis balls.

To put it bluntly, this so-called best iPad calculator in history is a calculator that is sufficient for daily use. It focuses more on the scenario problems you encounter in study or life.

But if you want to use it for deeper mathematical exploration, it's a bit difficult to ask a poet to solve calculus.

It is worth mentioning that the technology behind the iPad calculator is mainly supported by Apple's AI and machine learning.

Although we do not expect a small calculator to be able to solve all problems, we can't help but find that even these intelligent tools based on large AI models have their "knowledge blind spots."

Processing language is their strength, but when it comes to mathematical calculations, they are a bit timid.

Even if parents want to use AI to teach their children Mathematical Olympiad puzzles, the answers given by different AIs to the same question vary.

A few months after the wildly popular ChatGPT was released, educator Sal Khan mentioned in a TED talk that we are on the cusp of using AI to achieve the greatest positive change in the history of education.

He wants to assign an AI tutor to each student, which sounds beautiful.

However, the Wall Street Journal tested Khanmigo supported by ChatGPT, and the actual test results were disappointing. Even 343 minus 17 could be calculated incorrectly, square roots could not be rounded, and error checking could not be performed.

Yale professor Tom McCoy vividly described that asking ChatGPT to do mathematics is like asking a goldfish to ride a bicycle. This is not its strong point, and it is not surprising to make mistakes.

Two and a half years after the release of ChatGPT, it was the start of the sixth Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition. Different from previous competitions, this competition added the AI ​​Large Model Challenge. Unfortunately, no one among the 563 AI teams successfully advanced.

The average score of the AI ​​team is 18 points, which is similar to that of human players, but the highest score is 34 points, which is far behind the 113 points of human players.

Or, last week, the LLMEVAL team of Fudan University’s NLP Laboratory released the results of the 2024 College Entrance Examination Mathematics Large Model Evaluation. Even when faced with 14 objective mathematics questions, large AI models at home and abroad were defeated.

Large models based on the Transformer architecture were originally designed to handle natural language processing (NLP) tasks. Their main advantage lies in understanding and generating human language rather than performing precise mathematical calculations.

Typically, this requires us to recalculate to ensure the correctness of the results. The originally expected efficiency improvement did not materialize, but instead fell into a long tug-of-war with time.

In addition, when it comes to mathematical problems of handwriting input, inaccurate recognition of large models may lead to calculation errors. In other words, AI is just a tool, but it is more suitable for people who understand mathematics. If you don’t understand, it will be useless. .

This precise positioning of technology coincides with Apple's strategy.

Although a stand-alone calculator is not considered advanced at the moment, if you combine it with the golden pair of Pencil and tablet, it will be very different.

The combination of AI machine learning and Apple Pencil, this experience is very different from traditional keyboard, mouse and touch screen operations, and can provide users with a more intuitive and convenient interaction method. This is what the calculator on the iPad brings Maximum value.

On the one hand, the blessing of AI technology makes handwriting input more intelligent and efficient. For example, the Smart Script function introduced this time can adjust the user's handwriting. This precise recognition and adjustment method makes handwriting input efficiency instantly soar.

On the other hand, compared with previous professional painting creations, thanks to the blessing of AI, Apple Pencil can not only visualize various mathematical functions, but also further improve Pencil's drawing capabilities.

Mathematics never beats around the bush. If you understand it, you understand it. If you don’t understand it, you don’t understand it. For a specific group of students, lowering the threshold for understanding difficult problems will also prevent them from getting frustrated at the problem.

In turn, the difference in calculator experience also reflects the current positioning and value of the iPad – not to compete directly with Mac and iPhone, but as an extension to provide a personalized work that is different from traditional computing devices and creative ways.

No, when we use Apple Pencil to write and scratch on the calculator, aren't we touching a new way of life?

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