Silver anniversary dawns for HP’s iconic calculator

By PHIL BAKER, Daily Transcript Technology Correspondent

Monday, February 27, 2006


With so many of today’s technology products becoming obsolete in as little as six months, it is refreshing to find one that has been selling with virtually no change for 25 years. The Hewlett-Packard HP 12c business calculator, introduced in 1981, is still going strong today with more than 15 million units sold. Noted for its 3-by-5-inch horizontal layout and reverse Polish notation entry method, the HP 12c is the calculator of choice for investors, real estate professionals, accountants, loan officers and business students. I used it in business school in 1983 –and my daughter used it 20 years later in her MBA classes. While the price of financial calculators has fallen to as low as $20, the HP 12c continues to sell for the premium price of US$70. (It originally sold for $150.) Its internal components have changed over the years and the production has moved to China from Corvallis, Oregon, but the HP 12c works and looks just as it did back in 1981. Why has it been so successful for all of these years? It would have been possible to add some features - a larger display and more calculating functions, for example - but the HP 12c is one of those rare products that got everything right the first time and became a status symbol. To its credit, HP has also been smart enough not to tinker with success. ‘The 12c meets the specific needs of millions of users: the right features, at the right time, for the right audience,’ say Fred Valdez, HP’s calculator general manager. ‘These qualities have contributed to its timeless appeal and success.’ To celebrate the 25th anniversary, Hewlett-Packard is sponsoring a contest , asking HP12c owners to submit their most incredible real-life success stories with the calculator. The winner gets a 2006 status symbol: a 37-inch LCD television.

-- Phil Baker

Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego’s Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. Send comments to Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.