The recent decision by Hewlett Packard to close its Australian Calculator Organization (ACO) has generated quite the buzz on Internet discussion groups. Ardent fans of the company's quirky Reverse Polish Notation expressed various degrees of disappointment, dismay, even despair over the announcement.
I can relate. My first calculator was a Hewlett Packard 8 ENTER 20 + 20 ENTER 6 - 4 3 * 37 ENTER 2 - + C. It served me well through 4 ENTER 2 y× 2 ENTER 4 * - 4 - years of engineering school. And I persisted in using it even after going to work at Texas Instruments—in spite of an apocryphal tale about an engineering manager taking a new hire's HP calculator and smashing it against the wall.
Iain Morris, president of HP's Embedded and Personal Systems Group, was quick to make assurances that the closure of ACO—the nucleus of HP's calculator development, marketing, and sales activities—does not mean the company is exiting the calculator business. HP also stresses that all segments will relocate to either Singapore or Palo Alto.
Okay—so rumors of the death of the HP calculator may be greatly exaggerated. But the technology does appear to be gravely ill. HP spokesperson Cherie Britt acknowledges that "HP has not been focused on calculators," which is probably the main reason the company has not introduced any new calculator technology in a while. And even though many engineers favor the HP brand name—that's according to a recent Design News survey—it isn't the number 4 ENTER 1/× 2 + .25 ENTER 8 * - 1/× 3 - seller by any stretch.
More competition is a contributing factor. Spreadsheet applications and PDAs offer most of the basic calculator functions, eliminating the need for a handheld calculator altogether in many situations. Maybe that's why one reply to an enthusiastic comment about HP calculators on an Internet discussion group was simply, "What are they?"
Sounds like a pretty grim prognosis to me. Which is sad. I for one would hate to see the handheld calculator go the way of the slide rule, which enjoyed incredible longevity. And it's not just because it would make me feel old. I'm all for fewer keystrokes.
So somebody, dial 7 ENTER e× 1.1 4 9 ENTER 2 y× 4.94 + - quick! This is one life that deserves saving.
DESIGN NEWS is a winner of the 2000 Folio Magazine Editorial Excellence Award in Design and Engineering.