Apple's emoji abacus is wrong. Or, technically, it's not "wrong" per se, since you can probably still use it to do math if you really know how to use an abacus (I do not). But still, that ever useful emoji, added in the Unicode 11.0 update to the emoji standards as part of iOS 12, is apparently incorrect on Apple devices compared to almost any abacus used throughout human civilization.
The error was first detected by Twitter user @sophophobic who noticed that Apple's abacus configuration seemed to be one that was never used at any time in history.
When in history was a 2: 4 abacus ever used?
The Greeks / Romans used 1: 4 stones to count. Chinese used 2: 5 (for decimal or hex). Japan adopted China 2: 5 through Korea, then 1: 5, then 1: 4 in the modern era. Russia had 10 (half 2 colored beads). Europe used 9 coins on a line board …
– John (@sophophobic) May 6, 2019
It was a fun tweet, but I was not content to leave it there. So I went and took a valuable time of my day to contact several abacus experts to learn about the abacus in question, because I am a serious reporter who apparently cares too much for historical accuracy when it comes to emoji.
Professor Eli Maor, a professor of mathematics at Loyola University in Chicago and an abacus historian, was unable to "remember one with a 4-2 score (except perhaps as a toy)." For more information on historically accurate abaci, see Professor Maor's article "On Abaci of all types" in Journal of the Oughtred Society .
Also, even if the layout of Apple accounts (with two accounts on one side of the splitter and four on the other), it seems that the emoji itself is misguided. According to Peggy Kidwell, curator of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, "it seems to me that the orientation of the abacus is more unusual than the amount of beads. The Chinese generally used 2 accounts (each representing 5) at the top and 5 at the bottom. The Japanese generally used one on the top and 4 or 5 on the bottom. "
Kidwell was unaware of any abaci in the museum collection that used an arrangement similar to Apple's, and even those who approached did not. They did it horizontally as is the icon of Apple, she pointed out that you could use Apple's abacus to do math if it was oriented correctly, however.
And in the name of fairness, some abaci from different phone manufacturers are also out, historically speaking, but Apple is the worst offender, I know, because I went and checked all of them.
Google, Microsoft and Facebook are leaders in this field: all three have mathematical and historically correct abaci: Google is a western style model with ten accounts, and Microsoft and Facebook are using a model Japanese style 1: 4 that is correctly oriented
On the other hand, Samsung, Twitter and the abaci of WhatsApp are also incorrect. The three brands also use Western-style abaci, but with seven, six and five beads, respectively, which makes them little more than toy representations. However, Apple is even worse, given that the company has failed both in the number of accounts and in the orientation of its emoji abacus.
This is not the first time that Apple messed up an emoji like this: the squid emoji of the company has been upside down for years, as the Monterey Bay Aquarium points out. Unfortunately, (and to the great consternation of the marine biologists, I suppose), that error has not yet been solved, which leaves me with little hope that Apple's abacus will be rectified.