|quality vs. commodity|
Message #1 Posted by megarat on 13 Aug 2007, 12:15 p.m.
I have a lingering question I'd like to throw to the group. It may seem trollish, but I'm actually hoping for a serious discussion.
It's the 21st century; you can get a seriously powerful computer that fits in the palm of your hand for less money than you'd spend on a one-way plane ticket; you can do some mind-boggling operations on a laptop, desktop, or cluster computer. In the past, HP made some calculators of astonishing quality, but nowadays you can pick up a surprisingly feature-rich calculator in the check-out line at Walgreens for only $15, even though its quality might be wanting.
Here are my questions:
(1) For those who routinely use calculators, how much is "that old-time HP quality" really necessary in their function?
(2) Does anyone feel that they would be better-served if HP also served the commodity calculator market?
I.e., does the world need quality calculators anymore? Do *we* need quality calculators anymore?
Sharp and Casio make some killer calcs in the sub-US$20 price point, with a feature set that surpasses that of many classic HPs; I would love to see HP throw their hat in this arena: make an HP 32s equivalent -- complete with squishy keys, no constant memory, and a small photovoltaic panel, small and light and disposable, light on the memory and programming capacity (but with RPN, of course) -- for US$20 or thereabouts. If they did this, I'd pick up a six-pack.
Right now HP seems to have a product line that doesn't know its target market. They're trying to maintain their reputation of creating industry-leading calculators, and ride that out for as long as they can, but realistically they've ceded the market to TI more than a decade ago, and honestly, the last HP calculator that shook the world was the 48sx (released circa 1990). By straddling the line between "quality" and "commodity", HP is looking schizophrenic and indecisive, as if they've lost their grip on reality.
I would love it if HP took a stand and created perhaps three lines of calculators: (1) Engineer-Grade: a serious piece of equipment, the calculator we're all lusting after, such as a true next-gen 42s with IO, the quality of yesteryear, more industrial engineering than you can shake a stick at, but costing >US$200 since it's catering to such a small market. (2) Student-Grade: i.e., the 50g and its successors. ~US$100. Nuff said. (3) Commodity-Grade: US$25 or less. Equivalent in function to the Sharp EL-506W, with both algebraic and RPN. A calculator that, if the dog eats it, you would pick up a replacement at the pharmacy.
I'd buy one of the engineer-grade calcs for work, and a handful of commodity calcs to keep around the house. Even if HP didn't create an engineer-grade calculator, I'd be happy with that classic quality being a driving part of my nostalgia, as long as it meant that HP would be making lots of calculators for a long, long time.
Mind, I'm only a nerd, I don't have the access to the same market-research data that HP has, and my suggestions above are ignoring HP's current breadwinners like the 12c so I'm not trying to claim that I think I know exactly what HP should do. That said, HP's current behavior in the calculator market is reminiscent of other "companies in trouble", e.g., SGI, so I'd just like to see them try something different, since the strategy of "desperately clinging to past success while producing new products of compromise" doesn't seem to work, for both the company and the customer.
(I also speculate that calculators are an endangered species -- that the market is going toward more generalized computing devices and that future school kids will have their classroom calculators as a software module in their mobile phones and MP3 players -- but that's a topic for another post.)