The ubiquitous TI-83+ scientific-math calculator has been around since 1999 and is usually priced from an “on sale” price of 90 or so to a regular retail price of 110 - $120. With modern chips it (I’m assuming) can’t cost more than a few dollars for the Jurassic Z-80 chips and guts for this decade old device and yet -
1: The price and configuration has remained more or less stable over 10 YEARS for a technology item. There are some upgraded models for more money, but the bulk of sales are still for the TI 83+.
2: There are almost no serious “work a like” competitors
For $ 100.00 a pop you’d think there would be a raft of companies that would be busting to grab market share and yet I see little in the stores that would appear to be going toe to toe with the TI. Why?
I’m not sure on this, but in high school I got the impression that TI was pushing everywhere to make their calculators standard. Textbooks would almost always have TI specific instructions and exercises – if you had any model other than the 83+, you had to figure it all out on your own. Same thing for classroom materials. TI provided lessons to math teachers, and I think gave them discounted hardware (the calculator itself, as well as the adapters that let you display the calculator screen on an overhead projector).
This is all true. In fact, TI even supplies schools with a huge number of low cost TI-83s that schools can then loan to their students for the year. And then guess which brand of calculator those students buy when they go to college?
Although, to be fair, I still have my TI-83 from college and I still love it.
That’s pretty true. I went back to college and the textbooks were specifically written to the TI 83 calculator series - and updated for the newest calculators - if you had one that was a few years old, you had to sort of figure out how to get the backward compatibility on your own.
(The finance textbooks are written specifically for the TI Financial calculators. But I do have a Business Stats textbook written specifically for Minitab and an Accounting Systems textbook that teaches you basic Accounting Systems design using - of all things - Access. The Intro MIS courses (i.e. can you add up numbers in a spreadsheet) all were written under the assumption your personal productivity package was Office. So its a racket at which TI is very good, but they are not alone.)
TI calculators, in general, also aren’t “too powerful”. Even my 89 Titanium, their top-end handheld calculator, doesn’t do symbolic calculus very well. It’s great for finding a numeric answer, though, making it basically useless for calc homework but fine for engineering and physics. The 83 and 83+ can’t simplify equations, factor, or multiply polynomials (i.e. it has no symbolic math capability) and can’t do your algebra homework for you.
TI specifically targeted the education market a long time ago, with classroom calculator packs and accessories like the CBL (calculator-based laboratory), which accepts a number of different measuring probes and is often used in science labs. Canned lessons usually call for the CBL specifically and provide the lesson-customized software that runs on the calculator. All of their graphing calculators have a specialized variant that can be used on a standard overhead projector with an LCD module that sits on the projector. There’s also now a wireless classroom system called the TI Navigator designed for the 83+ that ties a classroom full of calculators together.
My college’s math dept had a no-calculator policy, at least for “entry level” courses that all engineers would take. I don`t know about higher level courses only a math major or select others would take where perhaps numerical approximations were more essential to the material. In Calc 1-3 though the professors just got together and decided that in homework and exams anytime numeric manipulation was required it would be simple enough to be done mentally. I thought it was really helpful vs. my experience in high school where I needed a calculator.
I’m sure the development cost is significant. I understand they bought out Derive to add symbolic capabilities to their calculators, for example.
And I imagine it’s a diminishing market and new companies are hesitant to get into it. TI already has the school/student market cornered, and who else uses graphing calculators these days? I’ve never seen a research scientist or engineer use anything more than a basic scientific calculator; if we need something more powerful we’d use a PC.
If you’re talking about scientific calculators, TI is still the most common but does have significant competition, from Casio and others. (The calculator I primarily use is a Casio scientific calculator, which has served me well for many years after several TI’s that only lasted about a year or so each.)
But the OP was specifically referring to graphing calculators. There, TI’s domination of the market is more total. (I just now searched for graphing calculators on Amazon.com. The top responses were all various TI models, but there were also some HPs and Casios, some of them significantly cheaper—like in the $50 range—than the TIs.)
I’m sure the reason TI dominates the market for graphing calculators so much is because they are used almost solely in educational settings, and TI pushes its products there. Teachers that require a specific model and going to require a TI; textbook descriptions tend to be geared towards TIs; and students who have other brands may have to do a bit extra on their own to figure out how to use them.
I am indeed skeptical of graphing calculators, especially TIs. Compared to other electronics, they’re way too expensive for what they do, IMHO. For not too much more, you can buy a laptop that does everything a graphing calculator can do, and a hundred times more. It’s that hundred times more that’s the problem, though: if you’re in a class, taking a math test, you’re more likely to be allowed to use a calculator, with a relatively limited set of functions, than to use a laptop.
I remember those things (must have been earlier model) getting really popular when I was in college in the late 1980s. When I was teaching stats for engineers in the early 1990s tons of people had them.
And what sucked was they didn’t understand the basics of what they were trying to do so the calculator was of no help at all. There was a homework problem I used to assign which came down to finding the area under a section of a triangle. Utterly trivial, do it in your head kind of math.
Inevitably people would follow this method:
a. Derive equation of line (messing up calculation somehow).
b. Integrate under that equation (messing up calculation somehow).
c. Arrive at hideously wrong answer out to 8 places.
d. Come to office hours and ask for help.
e. Smack selves in head when I had them put their calculator away and ask them to draw the problem on a sheet of paper, then solve using their 7th grade math.
I’ve got one of the real basic Casio scientific calculators, owned it since high school. My lord, that’s over 20 years. I have never changed the battery and it’s still chugging along!
I still have my HP 16C scientific calculator that I purchased some 25 years ago. It works like a charm, and, I find, it is worth about $400 with case and manual (I paid $120 in 1983).
The 16C is no longer manufactured, but the HP 12C, the financial version of the same calculator, is still sold and is the standard in the financial world. I can’t think of any other current tech product with such a lifespan.
Just posting a marginally related tidbit that may be of interest.
In 1970 I got out of the Marines and decided to go to school. My father bought me, for $50, a slide rule.
It wasn’t until 1972 or 73 that I saw my first reasonably sized electronic calculator. On of my profs was given, when he was promoted to head of his department, a four function one that would, just barely, fit into his shirt pocket. It was around $400.
At the time we (myself, Ms Hook, and the Little Hook) were probably living on less than $400 a month.
You may now return to your regularly scheduled posting.
I got my first calculator in the early-'70s in jr. high. It had blue LEDs sealed in a vacuum tube. It burned through AA cells at an alarming rate, and generated quite a bit of heat when it was on. It could add, subtract, multiply, and divide – and that’s it. It cost $100.
I was so happy when I got a TI-30 a couple/few years later.