iPad with Calculator is cool but the real AI tablet hero is Math Notes – and I can't wait to try it

Apple Math Notes in Calculator on iPadOS 18
(Image credit: Future/Jacob Krol)

For as long as the iPads have been around – about 14 years – Apple has never included a Calculator app out of the box. With countless third-party options available, it might have been that Apple didn’t see a need or, as Craig Federghi – Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering – put it in an interview with MKBHD, they wanted to wait until they could deliver something great. 

I agree that the iPad wasn’t really missing out without that mathematical tool built in, but WWDC 2024’s keynote changed all that. Apple unveiled a Calculator app for the iPad, which received thunderous cheers and applause on-site, and the tech giant got a second round after it did a bit of a double reveal.

It looks like the traditional Calculator app from the iPhone and can be used in horizontal or vertical orientation. Suppose you have a 13-inch Air or Pro; you can live out the dream of having a massive calculator. But if you tap the Calculator button, you’ll find an option for Math Notes, and it might just be one of the most impressive feats I’ve seen demoed.

You can write out a simple equation or something much more advanced with the Apple Pencil, and the iPad will solve it in a matter of seconds and present the answer in a way that mimics your handwriting. The iPad can essentially do and solve math now, and as someone who struggled in that area, I wish I had this in school and college. 

Math Notes changes the game

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While it’s not technically under the Apple Intelligence umbrella, some rigorous computing is going on in the background, as a team at Apple essentially needed to teach the iPad and iPadOS Math at both elementary and more advanced levels. 

In a demo, I saw Math Notes in action and it works nearly instantaneously. You write an equation, add an equal sign at the end and the iPad handles the calculation. It’s that simple and is poised to be immensely useful for anyone – students, workers, and potentially engineers – who needs a succinct way to perform general calculations. 

It’s a great spotlight feature of Apple’s approach to AI or something adjacent to Apple Intelligence and how the technology giant approaches a space with plenty of other options. The Calculator experience doesn’t stray too far from the original function of the tool and the application of machine learning to help you produce and solve equations is useful instead of showy.

Machine learning helps Math Notes understand what you’re writing and learn the tendencies of your strokes. This allows the answer to come through swiftly and look like it’s your own handy work.

I’m eager to spend more time with it and push it to the limits. From the keynote, we know it’s suitable for addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division – but it can also automatically tally up a list of numbers if you draw a line at the bottom or if you write out a complex equation, you can change it after a result has been tallied. Meaning you can add a division at the bottom and see it update in real time; it appears infinitely customizable and understands all the inputs. 

While it might be seen as an easy way to get to the answer, it could also be used in education, considering it can understand visuals and other inputs and generate graphs to help you understand more of the function.

Math Notes does live within the Calculator on iPad, but it can also be accessed from Notes. The only thing here is that it won’t automatically provide the answer, but you will get an option. This way, if you’re writing down notes in a meeting, the added smarts of the iPad’s math genius are a stroke away.

The Calculator with Math Notes will arrive on a bevy of iPads

Apple Calculator app iOS 18/iPadOS 18

(Image credit: Future/Lance Ulanoff)

Since it’s not under the umbrella of forthcoming Apple Intelligence features, Math Notes also expands the devices that can handle the more advanced Calculator experience. It’s well beyond just M-Series powered iPads and includes 12.9-inch iPad Pro 3rd gen or newer, 11-inch iPad Pro 1st gen or newer, iPad Air 3rd gen or newer, iPad Mini 5th gen or newer, and iPad 7th gen or newer. It’ll even work on the iPhone with iOS 18, though you’ll need to scribble out equations with your finger. 

So whether you need some help with calculus, algebra, or basic equations – or maybe you want to try and stump a computer – it seems like Apple’s given us a reason to be excited about a Calculator for the iPad. I, for one, can’t wait for Math Notes to drop with iPadOS 18.

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Jacob Krol
US Managing Editor News

Jacob Krol is the US Managing Editor, News for TechRadar. He’s been writing about technology since he was 14 when he started his own tech blog. Since then Jacob has worked for a plethora of publications including CNN Underscored, TheStreet, Parade, Men’s Journal, Mashable, CNET, and CNBC among others. 

He specializes in covering companies like Apple, Samsung, and Google and going hands-on with mobile devices, smart home gadgets, TVs, and wearables. In his spare time, you can find Jacob listening to Bruce Springsteen, building a Lego set, or binge-watching the latest from Disney, Marvel, or Star Wars.