Technology missing in calculators



#14

There are a number of technical advances used in other products that haven't shown up in HP or other mainstream calcs. Why? Wouldn't some of them be helpful? The technologies below are demonstrably useful and cheap.

  • backlit display (see cellphones)
  • bluetooth or wifi (cellphones, cordless mice)
  • Speech recognition for handsfree operation (cell phones, phone systems)
  • waterproofing, for outdoor operation (rugged cells, cameras, etc)
  • Color hi-res display to show more math, documentation. (PDAs, cell phones)

#15

Battery life.

Also, many of those things are not that cheap. Calculators are currently aimed at high school and college students. Cost is a big factor, and the licensing costs for voice recognition software would not be worth the limited convenience. Voice recognition can't beat rpn, either. Waterproofing is also not worth is anymore, because the targets are students in classrooms, not surveyors.

The nice displays are the only thing that I am surprised at the lack of. I do wonder what the biggest reason is for not including high resolution color displays. For TI and HP, the biggest remaining obstacle could very well be backwards compatibility.

#16

Quote:
  • backlit display (see cellphones)
  • bluetooth or wifi (cellphones, cordless mice)
  • Speech recognition for handsfree operation (cell phones, phone systems)
  • waterproofing, for outdoor operation (rugged cells, cameras, etc)
  • Color hi-res display to show more math, documentation. (PDAs, cell phones)

I'll comment on items one by one...

  • Backlighting: Marketing droid perception of calculators is that long battery life on a couple of "watch batteries" is de rigeur - and size of device is important too. Don't see many calcs today taking AA batteries.
  • bluetooth/WiFi: Or even Ethernet or USB. All the technologies are too expensive in chip count or chip area except for USB for top-end HP49G... You end up with a tail wagging the dog situation where there's more firmware running the WiFi card innards than there is running the whole calculator! Plus support costs would be high due to complexity (esp for WiFi - lotsa consumer electronic vendors making WiFi products are reporting huge support costs and high return rates.
  • Speech recognition: Would require a DSP chip + firmware of more complexity than the calc itself. Another 'tail wagging the dog' configuration for dubious usefulness. Also, speech interfaces for many human control tasks are actually WORSE (less reliable, slower and more fatiguing) than other input methods.
  • Waterproofing: Calcs are near-disposable items now, and biggest market is student market. And if the keyboard is reasoanbly tactile, a good clear ZipLoc bag could be useful. And I can't think of a project (except for some rare civil engineering field work) where numeric work couldn't be done back in vehicle, shed, etc.
  • Color Hi-res Displays: Again, a tail-wagging-dog situation for many calcs. Prob a successor to the 49G, if HP still makes calculators in a year or so (!), could have one of these. Remember, these better displays cost more themselves than most
    entire calculators (chip, display, case, KB) do. More intense software development/maintenance, for no perceptible marketing/sales gain. Furthermore, you're pricing yourself into PDA territory. And battery life gets worse esp when backlight considered... one of the biggest things consuming juice in digital cameras these days is the LCD viewfinder and backlight; it's right behind the CCD sensor in terms of drain/battery life.


Bill Wiese

San Jose, CA USA


#17

I agree with all of this, except USB: a USB device (not a host!) is very simple and cheap to implement, and my MLDL2000 add-on for the HP41 adds the USB device with a two-chip solution (USB controller and EEPROM).

Meindert


#18

Quote:
Meindert Kuipers wrote:
"a USB device (not a host!) is very simple and cheap to implement, and my MLDL2000 add-on for the HP41 adds the USB device with a two-chip solution (USB controller and EEPROM).

Meindert,

Yes, USB device software is relatively easy to implement. But I'd still bet a USB-enabled calculator doubles firmware size (KB) over a non-USB-enabled calc. A calc of HP41 complexity takes 12K or less in ROM space. From some of the example/demo code I've seen, a simple USB device, esp if supporting mass storage (a la USB stick drives) is gonna use up at least 8KB or more in firmware just to support the RBC disk block device commands.

In high-volume low-cost microcontrollers - the kind that are used on calcs - chip area is king. Look at a photomicrograph of a USB-equipped microcontroller (one not requiring an external analog line driver chip) - the USB I/O area consumes a fairly large fraction of chip area.

Microcontrollers (a la SunPlus) suited for use in most calculators are often $0.75 or less in volume cost, varying on packaging & pin count.

An extra $0.75 in chip price to get in the pricing arena of USB-equipped microcontrollers, plus a $0.40 USB connector (estimate), will add over $3 to price of calc hardware at retail. Add in additional budgeting to cover tech support costs for PC connectivity ("my calc won't enumerate", etc.) and that's at least a $6 in retail price for a feature most won't use. $6 will control whether or not your calc fits in a pricing slot at WalMart, RiteAid, or other volume retail establishments.

Bill Wiese

San Jose, CA USA


#19

Bill,

I can see the math, but somehow it doesn't fit. Why can I get a USB MP3 player at current market prices or the very low end digital cameras? Obviously, only the higher end calcs require interfaces like USB and they may then cost a bit more ....

Meindert

#20

Hi Meindert. What chips do you use / how do you implement USB?
(In your MLDL2000)


DW


#21

Hello Don,

The USB interface is the FT2232C from FTDI. There is also the FT245BM that can be useful, but it is much slower. These chips have license free drivers and loads of example programs. The cost of the FT2232C in small quantities is about 6 Euro's, and there are some companies offering the chip on a very small PCB for easy integration.

I have seen on your webpages that you have built a logic analyzer, well, I have done just that with the FT245BM. It is much slower than yours, but when connected to the HP41 it will gice a cycle-by-cylce trace of what the '41 is doing. I must credit Eric Smith for the original idea who uses a similar approach for dumping all kinds of HP ROM images. This analyzer was very very helpful in debugging the MLDL2000 design.

I plan to add an HP41 bus analyzer later in the MLDL2000.

Meindert

#22

This seems to work for mobile phones and PDAs, though, and no such fuss is made about battery life or requirements of complex chips and software support there.

Given that PDAs, and to some degree also "universal mobile phone+PDA+MP3player+gameboy+videoviewer", may be considered an evolutional successor of plain calculators, the observation is:

* you have all these features in such a handheld device nowadays
* it does no longer make sense to produce a high-quality calculation-only tool, except as a cheap throwaway gadget - you get more features with a "communicator"
* PDAs normally don't reach the calculation features found in older HP and TI calculators, except with additional software which is often work of hobbyist calculator enthusiasts (like HP41 emulators etc.): this make be believe that there is no longer a real interest - read: market - in such complex machines at your fingertips. If you want to do mathematics, you use a full PC; for four-species arithmetic with a single "M"emory, even the lousiest mobile phone has a program built in.

Regards
Holger


#23

Hi Holger.

I could not be bothered to use a spreadsheet to do impedance calculations (extreme overkill), etc. I HATE having to do it on a four function calc. Ofen I want to do other stuff with the result, like a quick attenuation calculation in dB (for audio filter or "roll-off" calc or maybe curious about phase or time delay, too).

No calculator other than my 41CV with TIME module can tell me how many hours per week I will have to put in between now and Christmas to do the remainder of an allocated 150 hours on a technical project. I can't effortlessly tell my wristwatch to beep when the ebay auction is nearly closed (but the mobile phone timer will do that at least).

No four function calc can do any of the simple but neccessary calculations I like to do for my electronics "work".
And a PC is VERY CUMBERSOME overkill...

So my 41CV is really quite important to me. I have survived without it and I like to keep my mind sharp enough to "do numbers in my head" but I miss it when I don't have it or it is down or (lately)
in need of some repair or TLC. It is an indidspensible workhorse the
like of which I have never seen before and never will again.
It is one of my most used and valued possessions.

DW

#24

Quote:
This seems to work for mobile phones and PDAs, though, and no such fuss is made about battery life or requirements of complex chips and software support there.

A totally different pricing and distribution model makes the difference.

Support - that's handled by the phone carrier. At least in USA, phone manufacturer's customers are NOT the end-user but the cellphone carriers. When you have a phone problem you're often referred to your carrier as 1st line of support.

A phone is a $200-$300 device, even if you don't pay it directly. In USA (Europe/elsewhere may be different) you often get a 'free' or 'cheap' ($50) phone but have to keep service w/carrier for 2 years or you have to return phone or pay a service charge of several hundred dollars to terminate service (to recoup cost of 'free' phone).

Plus, you charge your phone every few days or even more often than that. The relative power budget for the display as opposed to the transmitter power amplifier and radio DSP allows some leeway there. And the color backlit LCDs DO have more drain than monochrome LCDs and battery life is less than roughly equivalent generation phones w/simpler LCD display - though that is narrowing a bit. (My next cellphone will NOT have a color display!)

By contrast, most people are accustomed to their calculator always being there and up & running without charging or worrying about batteries. Otherwise, LED calcs would still be on the market: 7-segment LED display sticks are cheaper than LCDs and zebra connectors. ;)

And a $35 calc can't afford to be sold expecting a 1 in 5 chance that customers will call an 800# with detailed tech questions requiring 10 minutes of a customer rep's time. The profit has just walked away if that's happened.

Bill Wiese

San Jose CA USA

Given that PDAs, and to some degree also "universal mobile phone+PDA+MP3player+gameboy+videoviewer", may be considered an evolutional successor of plain calculators, the observation is:

* you have all these features in such a handheld device nowadays
* it does no longer make sense to produce a high-quality calculation-only tool, except as a cheap throwaway gadget - you get more features with a "communicator"
* PDAs normally don't reach the calculation features found in older HP and TI calculators, except with additional software which is often work of hobbyist calculator enthusiasts (like HP41 emulators etc.): this make be believe that there is no longer a real interest - read: market - in such complex machines at your fingertips. If you want to do mathematics, you use a full PC; for four-species arithmetic with a single "M"emory, even the lousiest mobile phone has a program built in.

Regards
Holger


[/quote]


#25

Quote:
7-segment LED display sticks are cheaper than LCDs and zebra connectors

Not in my experience. LED displays have more components and require more manufacturing steps to assemble than LCDs, so they are more expensive for a comparable display (i.e., if both are 10 seven-segment digits).

Edited: 8 Sept 2005, 2:25 p.m. after one or more responses were posted


#26

Hi Bill, Eric.

Sorry but I have to agree with you on this ne, Eric.
Hands down...

LCD's are kind of a bitch to drive...

DW


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