In an Age of Tablets, Are Calculators Still Relevant?

Y’all remember Texas Instruments, right? The company that has had a monopoly on high school math gizmos for a generation? Back in my day it was a TI-82 or -83 calculator that was the idol to which we had to make obeisance. Turns out technology has not come a long way since then — except, in the world outside of Texas Instruments, it has:

Texas Instruments released the graphing calculator in 2004, and continues to sell it today. The base model still has 480 kilobytes of ROM and 24 kilobytes of RAM. Its black-and-white screen remains 96×64 pixels. For 10 years its MSRP has been $150, but depending on the retailer, today it generally sells for between $90 and $120. The only changes have come in software updates. Amazon calls the TI-84 Plus a No. 1 best-seller. … Even with a 320×240 pixel screen, 128 kilobytes RAM and 4 megabytes ROM, overall the TI-84 line of calculators appears unnecessarily expensive given the components. Apple — which is notorious for high margins on its products — sells an iPod touch for $199 that comes with 16 gigabytes of memory and a four-inch screen with a resolution of 1136-by-640 pixels. That’s a dramatically better piece of hardware with a less significant gap in price.

Basically the calculator subtracts your dollars without adding much value. (See what I did there?)

“Compared to other electronics this day and age there is very little content,” said Barclays analyst Blayne Curtis of the TI-84 Plus. “Plastic case, small black and white screen, two semiconductor chips. The batteries are even not rechargeable like a cell phone.” He estimates a TI-84 Plus costs $15–20 to manufacture and has a profit margin of over 50 percent for Texas Instruments. For comparison sake, PC makers have margins under 3 percent. Texas Instruments declined to comment on its costs and profit margins for the TI-84 Plus calculator.