Let’s be honest, Apple’s calculator app nearly as appealing as the other stock apps on the Mac; heck, it even falls short against its iOS counterpart. With just the basic functions available, it’s one of the least used (not to mention forgettable) apps on my computer. And of all things, it has a Dashboard sidekick that’s even more forgettable.
On the flip side, this can mean more breathing room for more flexible and powerful mathematical tools for the Mac. In fact, a quick search on the Mac App Store shows a wide range of apps to choose from, ranging from scientific to purpose-specific calculators.
One of these that I’m interested in is Numi by Dmitry Nikolaev & Co, a menubar app that moves away from the typical way we use calculators by incorporating text into computation. The idea is that calculations can be made more comprehensive by adding text into the process, and so it is easier to see and understand how we’d arrive at the result.
Where Words and Numbers Meet
To distinguish numerical expression from ordinary text, Numi bases it on the symbols used. If the line begins with numbers, operations, or parentheses, it would interpret it as a computation. Otherwise, it would treat it as text by enclosing it with mathematical brackets.
But the main purpose of Numi’s functionality is to combine the two in a comprehensive manner. To do this, you only need to press the Tab key to switch modes while typing. Numi then formats text and calculation in an organized manner, making it visually easy even for those who aren’t fond of math. For example, you can begin with a heading, then jump to the next line with a number or parentheses to start the computation. You can label these figures with text to indicate what exactly is being computed.
Numi automatically computes the total of a computation, placing the result on the right side of the screen. You can add, subtract, multiply, and divide as many numbers and combinations as needed, and you’ll get the correct result at the end of the line. Besides the regular operations, you can also get the percentage of a value, and vice versa. I found this particular function pretty handy whenever I’m computing for tax, service fees, and the like.
But it doesn’t stop there. You can get the sum total of all of the results of every computation by pressing CTRL+= until an empty row or separate sum appears and breaks the flow of the equation. There are more keyboard shortcuts to use — all basic shortcuts we’d use on the Mac — and can be found in Numi’s documentation.
More Math Magic
Numi reminds me of Hog Bay Software’s TaskPaper wherein you create tasks and task lists simply with plain text. Here we have calculations rendered using just plain text in that you only need to type numbers, text, and perform operations on the screen—Numi takes care of the rest through lightning fast (re)calculation, formatting, etc. This saves me the trouble of using my mouse to input values or the hassle of losing myself to the flow of the calculation, and having to start over again.
But before you get your hopes up, this is where the magic ends. Automatic summation, regular operations and percentage functions, and organized formatting are Numi’s notable features. Everything else, such as autosave and keyboard shortcuts, are understood to be necessary features for an app like this. Sharing your calculations with others isn’t even interesting; you simply copy and paste the data to an email or message to send to whoever you would like to share it with. Finally, it would be nice to have the ability to create a new “page” or “ticket” for a new set of calculations, since text is now a part of the process and can get unorganized at some point.
I think the lack of features is really due to the limitations of a basic calculator. Unless this is a powerhouse scientific calculator or a weight loss calculator, there’s really nothing more for Numi to do but to perform simple computations.
A suggestion that could pump more juice into the app is to go beyond its limitations. Since integration is the theme, the developers can add integration with other note-taking apps, or synchronization with file sharing apps like Dropbox. I can envision this to work with Simplenote or Evernote, wherein you can save your calculations as notes for viewing, with sync and backups on Dropbox, Google Drive, or Skydrive—all this to keep your notes for safekeeping.
On the other hand, the developers can brush up Sharing by enabling users to email the calculations directly to the recipient. This would make things much more convenient than copying and pasting the data to share with others.
Numi’s plain text approach coupled with speed and convenience makes it a much better calculator to use than the stock Calculator app. It’s almost as if I were writing notes and Numi simply does the work of calculating and providing me with the correct results. The best part is that it saves all of my work, so I don’t have to worry about forgetting and redoing everything all over.
Where Numi is headed at this point we don’t know, but I believe it has plenty of space to work and become an even more innovative calculator for all users. It just needs a bit more magic to really give it that edge over other, regular calculators. By extending beyond its limitations, it has the potential of becoming a leader of its niche.