This article appeared in the January 1975 issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine.

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.

Plug-in solutions

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.

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Last updated February 26, 2006