Where is HP Going in the Calculator Marketplace?


With the new calculators being revealed, we can see that HP is continuing the change in direction that was hinted at with the release of the 50g. That machine restored some degree of the old attention to detail in the manufacturing process. What that produced was a machine whose look and feel, while not identical to older machines, was at least reminiscent of the past, and most importantly, one that didn't suck.

The new calculator appears to have been the result of at least some degree of additional engineering on HP's (or a contractor's) part. The functionality has evolved to some (as yet only hinted at) extent over the 33s, and in a direction many here (hi Karl!) have asked for. The large enter key may be a feature intended only for this anniversary machine, or it may regain its place as the default for RPN machines. But in any case, it's a visible symbol of HP's recognition of the value in their calculator legacy. That message is sure to warm the hearts of people around here.

But my question now is, to what degree do you think these changes will help HP in selling calculators? Besides warming the cockles of the vintage HP calculator enthusiast's heart, how will a large enter key, for example, convince people to buy a 35s and not one of the many alternatives from TI, Casio and others? A related question: what should HP do to keep the ball rolling? How can they combine innovation with the preservation of traditional values to produce machines that can win in the marketplace? Finally, what about the new machine from TI? It appears to be a radical - and very interesting - departure from the traditional idea of a calculator. Does HP need to respond to that in order to have a chance of gaining credibility?

Awaiting you collective wisdom.



Good question:

The early calculators were the 'killer application' of their day.

I was doing circuit analysis on my 41CX and 48SX at the time when there were no Personnel Computers - only a couple of shared workstations.

The symbolic+graphics calculator was the 'killer app' for maths students. Now laptops must be as common as the high end graphics calculators. Laptops have the color and user-interface advantage.

So HP need to reinvent themselves, and find a market niche with high ROIC.

Do they continue to follow the high volume competitive, low margin ?, student-teacher market.

This will catch students, who will hopefully keep using HP in later years ( remember how we used to aspire to owning super expensive professional HPs).

The traditional market, was us ( mathematical recreational users ) with a professional background or aim in life. They now seem to be tackling quality necessary for this market.

Now I feel they need to target applications and features that will add value to the end user. These must be something that's truly done better off the cluttered PC screen.

In the past we had the superb application books to learn from. These showed us how our jobs could be easier using a HP calculator.

I would like HP to re-discover the technical manual.


Besides warming the cockles of the vintage HP calculator enthusiast's heart, how will a large enter key, for example, convince people to buy a 35s and not one of the many alternatives from TI, Casio and others?

Well, for one thing, it might help influence some of us to stop telling our friends and acquaintances, "Get a TI, or a Casio, or anything except an HP. HP hasn't made anything but overpriced junk in years."


It may be that HP as a whole has realized the importance of quality industrial design and looks. They have announced recently a new line of PCs (a quick search gave me this link: http://h50043.www5.hp.com/ENP5/Public/Content.aspx?contentID=21070&portalID=367&pageID=1)
that emphasizes industrial design, and a black finish.

Apple is using the black color for the "high end" stuff, e.g. with the 8GB iPod Nano or the top of the line MacBook

The 35s is black, and looks professional. The 33s looks like a gadget. I know which one I'm going to buy ;-)

-- alain.


The 35s is black, and looks professional. The 33s looks like a gadget. I know which one I'm going to buy ;-)

There's no question, the 35s is far, far better-looking than the 33s. I hope it buries the 33s in the market quickly.


I hope it buries the 33s in the market quickly.

I don't. I hope that the 33S fills a niche and enjoys continued success. Professional engineering exams are one example where the 33S is approved and additional features would likely knock it off of the list. It might make sense if a less robust RPN scientific is brought out to fill the niche, but I would not drop it until then.

I also hope that the new calc finds a robust and profitable market waiting for it.

If a sibling product get buried in the marketplace, it reduces the chance that they would take a chance on another. It could also reduce the cash flow which will fund additional future models.

Besides, we all need more than one calc. :-)



Professional engineering exams are one example where the 33S is approved and additional features would likely knock it off of the list.

The sales brochure for the 35S says that it is approved for the following exams:

SAT® Reasoning and SAT® Subject TestsTM in Math 1 & 2, ACT,
PSAT/NMSQT, AP Chemistry/Physics, PLAN, EXPLORE†

I don't know if the exam you are thinking of is on that list, but they have at least expended some effort to certify it up to that point. (Or maybe not. The flier was obviously not meant to be released. It may be that those are the certifications planned for the release, not ones they have actually obtained.)

The product lineup on calculators-hp.com also was missing the 33S, but included the 35S. (I haven't checked to see if its the same today or not.) I think that means that the 35s is planned to replace the 33S. But if that's so, and if the speculation that HP's leadership in that niche (which surprised me, btw) is due to exam acceptability is correct, then they'd be crazy not to ensure that the same exams would continue to accept the 35S.

Besides, we all need more than one calc. :-)

This is not a problem for most of us here. 8)



There is a similar, parallel discussion just a few lines up regarding this very subject...


Actually, it doesn't take that much effort to "certify" it. Almost any scientific/graphing calculator without a qwerty keyboard, stylus, electrical outlet, etc. is approved.


Some comments on the place of the new 35s in the market:

1. There's no saying that the 35s reflects a new direction (it's an anniversary edition, essentially- no?). Although, the 50g also made similar improvements over the 49g+...

2. If the 35s remains in production (which makes business sense), then it will replace the 33s. From the PDF documentation:

The 35s Scientific Calculator includes all of the features of the 30s, plus the following:

3. Being as yet unreleased, I wouldn't expect the NCEES to have pre-approved the 35s. Thus they (HP) can't advertise it. But, I'd bet that it will be approved (since HP has already stopped the inflow of 33s machines at Fry's and Walmart longsince). Either that, or NCEES will permit only Casio and Ti (hope not...)

4. I certainly expect that SOME of the text on the marketing brochure will be polished/revised before we see it in the stores. Consider this statement:

Simplify physics with 42 built-in physical constants...

I don't ever recall working a physics problem while cursing the darn constants. It was more like 'why can't this be an ODE instead of a system of PDEs?!'

I'm not coming down hard on HPs engineers, (I'm very grateful and excited about the new machine!) I just find (as an engineer myself) some of those bullet points to be humorous:

Handle the heaviest workloads with ease using 31kb of memory...

Ipods' are about 1/4th the size, and have 4GB, and furthermore, my PC at work sometimes balks at the heavy workloads (input cases) that we submit! ;)

Just some eager rantings. Looking forward!



I know stuff like this has been discussed before, but I think it's worth mentioning in the context of these questions.

  • I'm looking right now at the HP-97 sitting on my desk. I just love this calculator. The "springy" keyboard notwithstanding, it's the easiest calculator to use in my collection. It has nice big keys, so "fat fingers" are less of a problem. And of course it has that gorgeous LED display, with digits big enough for my old eyes. It works great as a simple RPN adding machine, yet it has all sorts of advanced mathematical and programming features. Like I say, I love this machine.

  • Technical professionals no longer use calculators for serious mathematical work. The processing capability, generous displays and wide software selection of the PC trump portability in most cases.

  • Portable calculation power still has some utility, nonetheless. Field data collection is also an application the calculator can (*ahem*) excel at.

  • What else that's essential is missing from the PC mathematical picture that the calculator is strong in? Duh, it's the keyboard.

I want to use my HP-97, or something like it, to drive the math applications on my PC. Someone else might prefer a voyager style keyboard, or a pioneer, or a 41C or..

So here's my ideal "futurecalc."

  • It's a portable computing module with the very best compromise between mathematical power and electrical power consumption available at the time of its creation.
  • It's designed with standard keyboard and display interfaces.
  • It has removable storage on board
  • It has wireless networking. It speaks a standdard math application protocol over TCP/IP and the wireless network
  • It plugs in to a wide variety of casings and docks, each optimized for a particular purpose
  • It rocks around the clock!

The use cases for this thing are too numerous to cover here. But a few of the really interesting ones are:

  • Plugged in to a PC mathematical input device shaped like an HP97. 8)
  • Plugged in to a portable calculating device shaped like a [Pioneer|Voyager|Clamshell|41C|67|TI89|*]
  • Plugged in to a total station, collecting and reducing survey data.
  • Plugged into a [Gas Chromatograph|NMR|Mass Spectrometer|*] collecting data
  • et cetera!

The economic model would be like the PC: build a standard hardware platform and give away the specs. Make a killing doing higher level engineering on the platform, both hardware and software.

  • There's no reason I can see this thing couldn't power a PDA or phone as well as..


    Edited: 29 May 2007, 9:59 p.m. after one or more responses were posted

  • #28

    I have access to all sorts of high end structural design software which I use all of the time. I also use my 42s all of the time, including its programing capabilities. I use the 42s to verify software output, for preliminary design, and to design small projects. I don't know how you define serious mathematical work, but I definitley use my calculator to perform useful mathematical work. I see a continued use for number crunching calculators, and it seems to me that your idea of a futurecalc may be too complicated. Actually, meaning no disrespect, it sounds like you are describing a tricorder from Star Trek.


    .. it sounds like you are describing a tricorder from Star Trek.

    I get what you mean from one perspective. But the description could also apply to a laptop or small PC. That isn't what I'm talking about, but reread the descriptions with that in mind, and see if you don't agree.

    I think the science fiction aspect of my proposal is not in the technology itself, but in the economic model. In order to establish an "ecosystem" for that sort of device, a very large company, or consortium of companies, would have to make very large long-term investments in technology they would be giving away to all comers. And despite the example of the PC, I don't think there's a directly analogous story in the history of computing that has succeeded. The story of the PC differs in at least two respects from what I have in mind, First, it was "given away" by IBM by accident, in the case of the hardware, and by reverse engineering on the part of Compaq in terms of firmware. Second and most important, the PC platform gained its success in the face of very little competition, at least in comparison with what a proposal like this would face today.

    As far as the utility of calculators, I absolutely agree they are still useful. My point (and it's been made earlier, and better, by others in this forum and elsewhere) is that they are far less essential than they were in HP's calculator heyday. I do think that portable computing power in general has a great future. My proposal is aimed at preserving use cases like yours, where calculators continue to offer unique advantages. But I would give you the option of extending the utility of what you do. For example, you could take the results of your ad-hoc calculation at your lab bench or desk, and upload it to compatible software on the PC. that in turn could utilize local resources, or even the power of a computational grid, if necessary, to continue the work you started on the calc. It would work the other way too. Software on the PC could produce programs for the calc to allow it to participate, as appropriate, in a system design. Finally, you could do quite a bit of community grid stuff with these things. Yes, do imagine what a beowulf cluster of these would be like. 8)


    Edited: 29 May 2007, 10:31 p.m.


    Howard, you make good points, and I wouldn't be surprised if calculators evolved in a manner similar to what you describe. Star Trek predicted small portable storage media (floppies, etc) and communicators, so why not tricorders?



    From your post, it sounds like you are a structural designer or analyst. Structures is my focus too. While I lean toward the analytical side (finite elements, boundary elements, etc.) I also make frequent use of CAD software including CATIA and Femap.

    I do make use of my calculator on a daily basis, and am very enthusiastic about the new 35s. Particularly, I am hoping for multialpha labels, and matrix support. The keyboard is looking very promising. I do wonder, however, about the marketing...the bullet points on the PDF don't make much sense:

    Get accurate results with edit, undo, delete capability

    I would have phrased that something like:

    Gain more control over your operations with edit, undo, and delete capability

    Well, I'm glad to hear of another structures person here!



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