Why is Apple obsessed with the iPhone’s Calculator icon?

No app icon in the history of iPhone-dom has undergone as much design scrutiny as the poor Calculator icon. For reasons known only to Apple, the Calculator icon has been changed with each and every version of the iPhone OS, and apparently OS 4 is no different.

Perhaps sensing how important the calculator icon is in the smart phone game, it appears Apple is determined to get it just right. In fact, I’ve heard rumors that the reason the iPhone does not support Flash is because Apple reassigned key members of the Flash team to the “Calculator icon” division, which, at 11 employees, is the largest iPhone department in Cupertino, answerable only to Steve Jobs himself.

I’m not saying the evolution of the icon hasn’t been fun to watch, and I’ll admit it looks better in version 4 than version 1, but I think with the exception of the Contacts app, the calculator might by the least used app on my iPhone, and I certainly was never confused as to what it did from looking at ANY of the icons.

If anything, the iPod icon is now somewhat confusing. Who the hell has seen a click wheel iPod in the last 3 years?

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Comments
24 Responses to “Why is Apple obsessed with the iPhone’s Calculator icon?”
  1. Chris Dunning says:

    I wonder if it’s a quick visual cue to which OS number someone is running on their iPhone… although I don’t know why that would matter.

  2. wah says:

    i have ipod touches with os 2 and 3 and both have calc icons that look like the os 3 icon you show

  3. Julian says:

    looks to me like they probably changed it because the icon looked too much like the one they are using for folders now — thus they got rid of the outline around the buttons.

  4. darrell says:

    doc – the nano is still the best selling iPod.

    i do agree with the calculator icon, at smaller size, the OS4 version definitely appears harder to read.

  5. Quantum Panda says:

    Who’s seen a click wheel iPod recently? Anyone who, like me, uses their iPod primarily for playing music (you know, that thing iPods were invented to do) and have large collections. A 120GB iPod classic fits into my pocket a lot better than a storage-equivalent number of iTouches.

  6. Killer's Dad says:

    None of you has Apple’s Cash Pile much less Steve Job’s Pile. It takes a special calculator to keep track of BILLIONS!

  7. Alex says:

    Actually… I’m not sure when this happened, but the iPod icon now has lines going from the top-right to the bottom-left. If you can’t see it on your iPod/iPhone’s screen, take a look at Apple’s page. http://www.apple.com/iphone/iphone-3gs/ipod.html

  8. Alex says:

    **Not that the impact was as drastic as Calculator’s icon change…

  9. Jonro says:

    That new icon is sublime. I expect that it will redefine calculator app icons for years to come.

  10. Cris says:

    It’s probably so that you don’t confuse the Calculator icon with one of the new Folder icons.

  11. Ryan says:

    be it’s because the new folders feature has an icon that can look too similar to the old calc icon. They had to change it so it would look so “folderish”
    I think it looks better anyways

  12. CHris Caldwell says:

    The calculator icon first changed at the launch of the iPod touch (1.1) not OS 2. The icon changed in OS 2 to show the square buttons. The icon never changed in OS 3. In OS 4 the icon changes for the fourth time.

  13. kusmi says:

    They should change the “Voice Memos” icon! I think it was designed when Steve Jobs was on temporary leave from Apple – this icon should NEVER been shipped!

  14. Kayzah says:

    Here is a good example why apple had the prior version of the calculator icon:
    http://gizmodo.com/5411868/dieter-rams-gallery/gallery/7

    More Apple-Braun Design similarities here:
    http://gizmodo.com/343641/1960s-braun-products-hold-the-secrets-to-apples-future

  15. Logicub says:

    A nice new (I think) feature in iTunes, if you goto to the Apps section of your Library (not the apps tab in your iPhone), you can switch to a coverflow/list view of your apps with, sometimes, wonderful hi-res iPhone app icons… I was amazed at the quality of most of them when they’re blown up to fill half the screen… More at the fact that developers submit icons of such quality!

  16. I think there’s a link between the new icon and new folders. The older one looked like a folder.

  17. George Lim says:

    Could it just be an easter egg that apple chucks in to see if anyone notices?

  18. Apparently it’s because the old Calculator icon didn’t look good with a coloured background. OR SUMMIN LIKE DAT.

  19. Alex says:

    icon of biggest/old iPod is something like “save” icon – diskette. no body use that media but denotation remains :)

  20. Dan says:

    Au contreir, mon a mi, I still have an iPod classic! Granted, that’s only because the iPodTouches/iPhones don’t have enough storage capacity yet at an affordable price, but the product line is still selling, and what is more ubiquitous with the term iPod than a click wheel? This from a guy who’s had an iPod since late 2001…

  21. dante says:

    To change the Calc app icon is as useless as an article
    that discusses about it

  22. steve says:

    The design process here reveals so much about people think and create, its amazing. Ever pick up one of those Culligan gallon water jugs? Kind of hard to carry, but a few years ago they finally thought to add a handle to the darn thing. And Hanes finally removed that itchy tag from t-shirts so now the label is right in the fabric. And designers stopped using the html form ‘reset’ button, which is like a giant ACME “Do not push” button right next to the button that you actually need to use. Takes a brain, right?

    Apple is excellent at eliminating “chart junk” from their interfaces. But more than that, they know that interface is what sells technology, and its not done in a single step and you have to be paying attention.

  23. Westcoast Guy says:

    Hmmm… maybe they should have hired mathematicians in that group.

    On an iPhone 4 Model MC603C, running iOS 4.3.3 (*J2), open Calculator. Enter the number 25.

    Now, cube it, using the X^3 button. You should get the right answer of 15,625.

    Here’s the tricky part: Now cube-root it, using the XrootY button. You math types out there, and just about anyone else, would expect to get 25.

    Oh no, not in “Apple Math World”, where things are a little distorted from reality. I won’t give the answer away. You try on your iPhone.

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