|My "short essay" on this topic |
Message #14 Posted by Karl Schneider on 5 Feb 2004, 3:00 a.m.,
in response to message #13 by Eric Smith
You are a formidable debater and quite-knowledgable individual, as indicated by your responses and your postings on ROM extractions and engineering history of HP calcs. Please keep up the valuable work!
I'd just like to emphasize that my statements in this thread aren't fundamentally about the HP-10C or business cases; they're about good engineering and the release of “compromised” products in order to fulfill a business strategy or to improve the short-term bottom line.
I'll opine the following: Marketing that supports engineering -- by informing buyers about new high-quality products -- is almost always beneficial. Engineering that supports marketing, however, is a double-edged sword that may or may not be profitable over the long term.
You mentioned the example of an $80 VCR vs. a $100 VCR sharing many components. There's absolutely nothing wrong with offering a less-capable model to customers unwilling or unable to pay the higher price. My only caveat would be that the cheaper model should not be compromised -- it should perform all of its lesser functionality well, and not feel "crippled" to the user. This, I think, is the true essence of good, ethical product placement -- as opposed to quasi-bait-and-switch ("Yeah, we've got those low-end models, but they're a piece of junk --here's what you really want.")
To illustrate this point: A 4-door car with vinyl upholstery might be an economical alternative to the luxury model with leather. However, a 4-door car without a back seat as standard equipment would be compromised.
Back to the 10C: I should temper my earlier statements, because the 10C wasn't as bad as I suggested. The only thing really wrong with it is the lousy programming (shared by the 12C) that doesn't allow insertion or deletion of instructions. That complicates even simple programming tasks, and renders the two conditional tests a real chore to use. Adding "LBL" and "GSB" would require eliminating the conditional tests; nothing else on it is truly expendable. Still, I question whether it was worth $80 – considerable in the early ‘80s – as essentially a non-programmable, when the better Voyagers could be had for $135 or less. Discerning buyers of HP calculators apparently also questioned its value, as evidenced by its short life span.
Did the 10C improve HP's bottom line by securing some sales in the low-end segment, and by providing a "hook" for sales of the uncompromised 11C and 15C? Maybe so. But how many purchases of the latter two models were lost because the lower-cost 10C proved enticing to strapped-for-cash students? How many buyers of the 10C did not buy a 42S or 32S a few years later? How many 10C owners weren't fully satisfied with what they got for their $80 ("How do I program this $%&# thing?"), and never bought another HP? All of these factors -- difficult to quantify, for sure – reduced profitability in the long term.
Perhaps the introduction of the 10C wasn’t a bad idea. I suspect that the plan all along was to offer three models of general-purpose scientific calculator – basic, intermediate, and advanced. The 11C met most people’s needs, and utilized most of the techniques and procedures of the 34C. The 15C – major advancement that it was – required more time for development. Subsequent release of the 10C probably just completed the original plan. As prices on the 11C and 15C dropped, and personal incomes rose due to inflation (and recovery from the 1982 recession), the 10C became superfluous. Its termination in 1984 became an even better idea.
However, it could be argued that the money spent on its development could have been better spent on heavier marketing of the 11C and 15C, with no extra reductions in price. When you have something good, let the public know that it is well worth what is asked.
As for the superb 15C, I’ll state that its development was absolutely commendable purely from an engineering standpoint even if it weren’t a commercial success – which I believe it was. HP turned a very good product into a great one, without losing any ease-of-use of the original, or altering its sensible form factor. Some other commendable products got buried by “market forces” – e.g., the Commodore Amiga – but thankfully, not this one. I believe that your own ROM-extraction results (14 kB for the 15C versus 6 kB for the 11C) shows the amount of work done to bring the 15C to the marketplace.