The Calculator that Never Dies
Thirty years ago, a former Iowa farm boy led a team that produced probably the most successful product of the time, one that, thirty years later, it is still selling in its original form and is used by over 100 million people worldwide.
I’m not talking about that famous IBM PC that was born the same year, now only a museum piece. I’m talking about a pocket sized device that revolutionized the way financial calculations were made--the HP 12c Financial Calculator.
That former farmer boy was Dennis Harms, who joined HP fresh from Iowa State with a Ph.D. in numerical analysis, and was put in charge of creating a financial calculator that would fit in a shirt pocket, be reliable and have a long battery life.
The HP 12c is a consumer electronics product that today is still sold with the original model name, and has not changed its design in the last thirty years. A newer version, the HP 12c Platinum, was introduced a few years ago, but most HP 12c users rejected it: it was not built the same way and had a few changes the HP 12c users didn’t like! What happens when companies push too far with product development that favors the new over the old? The results aren’t always positive, I am afraid. They violate one of those universal laws of marketing by creating products that their customers don’t want.
Continued on the next page
I fell in love with the 12c back in the '80s when I returned to Spain. I was already a fan of HP calculators; those were the equivalent of pocket computers for us in engineering school. The 12c was similar, but different. If you have not used an HP calculator in those years you don’t know what you missed. The keys were solid, they had a unique feedback, and a mechanical click you could feel, making sure you really pressed the key.