|Re: HP 49g|
Message #3 Posted by James Stephens on 25 Feb 2003, 7:03 p.m.,
in response to message #1 by Joe Dirt
The hp-49g was discontinued, which is unfortunate. The market may not have wanted it, but my gut feeling is that there was--and is--plenty of room in the market for it and there were other reasons for production to have ceased. The hp-49 is a good machine, and I'd like to see it back in production. I hope someone at hp monitors this site and reads my suggestions.
When I bought mine in 1999 there was a lot of interesting material on the web, and some of it may not be available any longer. According to my web-based research, the 49g was designed in Australia by some very good hp-48 experts, so it was designed to be appreciated by loyal hp types who knew their way around an hp-48. HP was also trying to push into the education market, so the requirement to compete with TI (and others) drove the design to some extent. The look of the calculator, and more significantly the fact that it can operate in RPN and algebraic input modes were certainly results of this philosophy. Nothing is wrong with any of this. The calculator looks fine, and although the layout and tactile feedback are a bit different than those of the 48 series, the keyboard is still high in quality and the layout is appealing. The fact that the user could choose algebraic or RPN input should have opened up a good segment of the market, at the expense of complicating the documentation requirement. Documentation (at least in my opinion) is where hp blew it.
These calculators are too complex to master without good documentation. The User's Guide (manual) supplied with the machine was full of statements like "The hp 49g can do..." one thing or another, without explaining how to actually do the one thing or another. Some of the few detailed examples that were in the guide had errors, and the entire document was geared toward algebraic input. I had never used a graphing calc before I bought the hp-49g--had never owned an hp-48 (but was a loyal hp man, having owned a -15c, -32s and -32sII). I took the -49g out to sea on a seismic survey in early 2000 and worked through the manual. I found examples that didn't work, found a few things (such as entering vectors) that didn't "translate" in any obvious way between algebraic and RPN modes, and was sorely tempted to toss the thing into the Atlantic. One bright spot: I bought the calculator for its CAS, with the intention of having an easy-to-use way of evaluating integrals numerically. I did find the Equation Writer to be intuitive, so the machine did what I wanted without a lot of trouble.
I had the impression that HP believed that an experienced hp-48 user should have no problem with the hp-49, but many hp-48 users didn't like it--or more precisely didn't like the fact that the hp-49 worked differently. NB: For those of you who don't know, there is a flag setting that makes the -49 operate like an hp-48, so all of that knowledge--and the manuals--carry over. Still, one shouldn't be required to own an hp-48 in order to be able to use an hp-49.
By producing poor documentation HP alienated its loyal customer base as well as new users. When you by an hp-48 (yes, I got one of these after I got the hp-49), you get three manuals: a User's Guide, an Advanced User's Guide, and a Quick Start Guide. The user's guide is a thick, comprehensive, very-well-written document, as is the advanced user's guide. HP needed to produce documentation of similar quality for the hp-49 (the existing guides are worthless and need to be rewritten). Now, here's the problem: separate user guides would have to be supplied for algebraic and RPN modes of operation. This would be an expensive proposition. Here's the solution: the Quick Start Guide for the hp-48 introduces you to everything (short of programming) that a student or professional user needs to use the calculator (through a series of exercises), so produce a two-part quick start guide for the -49g: section I would be algebraic, section II would be RPN. Include a mail-in card for the full User's Guide of choice (algebraic or RPN), and make the appropriate Advanced guide an extra available for sale.
The machine is capable enough for the education trade, and good documentation and marketing would surely make it a contender. It is rugged (it's a *real* hp) and capable enough (especially in RPN mode) for professionals. HP's designers really did succed in creating a machine to please everyone, but their technical writing and support efforts failed them. OK, I've rambled enough--Jim.