Over the last few months, there has been a definite shift of the mix
of new calculator products being introduced. Those very expensive
(and powerful) machines announced early in 1974 remain pretty much
unchallenged, while manufacturers have concentrated on finding and
filling performance "gaps" that exist between their own products and those of
the competition. Hewlett-Packard, for example, found that a simpler type
of business calculator was needed for the large number of nontechnical users
who wanted more than four functions, but not the complexity of the original
HP-80. Thus the HP-70 was produced, offering an attractive price and
performance compromise. In the scientific arena, H-P has introduced the
HP-55, a preprogrammed pocket calculator delivering 86 keyboard functions,
49 steps of program memory, and a built-in digital timer for $395. Among
H-P's portable calculators, only the fully programmable HP-65 is more powerful.
Texas Instruments also expanded its engineering calculator line in similar
fashion with the SR-16, announced in November 1974. List priced at $99.95
and offering scientific notation, the SR-16's capabilities fit nicely between
the less expensive SR-11 sliderule, and Texas Instrument's fully scientific SR-50.
Where established calculators are concerned, the attention centers on the continuous
wave of price "adjustments." Most such changes are reductions, with Casio's fx-10
at $79.95 and Sinclair's Scientific at $49.95 (in kit form) leading this trend among
scientific calculators. Even Hewlett-Packard's prestigious HP-45 has been reduced
$70, to $325. But the uneasy feeling remains that these price battles have
become dangerously unprofitable. Bowmar, maker of the popular "Bowmar Brain,"
recently found it necessary to raise the price of its MX-100 scientific calculator
$10, to $129.95.
Most novel among recent calculator developments is the AC-powered desk-top PC-1002
from Sharp Electronics Corp., Paramus, N.J. Intended for engineering applications,
this Japanese-made machine performs 15 scientific functions. In addition, this
calculator offers up to four individual programs or a total of 256 steps which are
controlled by four special keys (A, B, C, D). A plug-in programmable read-only
memory (PROM) module contains the commands. When installed, the PROM becomes part
of the calculator's hardwired system. With different PROMs, the functions of the
special keys are changed, converting the calculator to user-specified applications.
Standard chips are now available for statistics, mathematics, metric conversion,
and surveying. Additional chips covering structural engineering, electrical
engineering, finance, and other fields are currently in preparation.
Apart from the PROM function, the PC-1002 can be keyboard programmed up to 64 steps.
The 15 functions provided by this calculator include trig, inverse trig, hyperbolic,
exponential, logarithmic, factorial, power, azimuth, and area calculations. The unit
offers ten-digit mantissa, two-digit exponent, and eight memory registers. Exponential
display capacity is from 10-99 to 1099 and zero. Model PC-1002
weighs 1.2 kg and costs $645, including one standard PROM chip. Sharp will design
and manufacture special PROM modules to order. There is an additional design charge
for custom-made chips.
Also active with several new calculator products is Canon Inc., Lake Success, N.Y.
Recently announced were desk-top, printing, and consumer calculators - plus the
Palmtronic FC-80 for mixed measurement conversions. Handling metric and U.S. terms
for length, weight, area, volume, or temperature, the FC-80 will make all desired
conversions between any two units of the same parameter (miles to yards, miles to
kilometers, etc.) - a total of 326 conversions in all. Featuring eight digits,
floating decimal, zero suppression, and overflow indication, the $129.95 Palmtronic FC-80
also handles percentages, powers, and add-on and discount calculations.
The budget end of the calculator business is still solidly embraced by National
Semiconductor's consumer products division and the Novus line of four-function
calculators. The six-digit Novus 650 with a fixed decimal for dollars-and-cents
calculations was recently discounted to $16.95 from $19.95.
One area strongly affected by the easy availability of scientific calculators is
engineering education, according to Edwin C. Jones, Jr., professor of electrical
engineering, Iowa State University. Dr. Jones told Spectrum that about
one third of the juniors in electrical engineering at Iowa State owned
scientific-type calculators by March 1974. Exams have proved one obvious point
of concern, with some instructors or departmenst banning calculators outright,
but Dr. Jones feels that this cannot last as an official policy.