With so many teenagers equipped with smartphones, it can be easy for older Americans to feel a little jealous of their younger counterparts. After all, cramming at the last minute before a big history exam is a lot easier if you can quickly double check facts on your iPhone. If the subject’s algebra or calculus, however, today’s high school kids have about the same technological edge as students did 10 years ago. That’s because the TI-84 Plus graphing calculator remains the standard tool for many classrooms, despite the fact that the device has changed little since its release in 2004.
One of Texas Instruments’ best selling products, the base model TI-84 Plus contains just 480 kilobytes of memory and displays its data on a 96×64 pixel black-and-white screen. The product has a suggested retail price of $150, though many retailers price it between $90 and $120. In contrast, the $199 iPod Touch is equipped with 16 gigabytes of memory and a four-inch screen with a resolution of 1136×640 pixels. This enormous gap in capability but small difference in price runs counter to one of the basic tenets of tech: electronics become cheaper and better as time passes and technology advances.
Although the TI-84 Plus has improved little over its decade of existence, the device still accounts for 93 percent of U.S. graphing calculator sales. That’s because the relationships Texas Instruments maintains with schools and teachers are vital to keeping the calculator in the classroom. Since 1986 the company’s Teaching Teachers with Technology program has helped more than 100,000 educators become familiar with the TI-84 Plus. Texas Instruments also maintains a hotline to help both teachers and students with any problems they encounter. As a result, the TI-84 Plus remains the standard throughout the nation, even though other companies like Casio offer cheaper alternatives. A growing number of graphing calculator apps could give the TI-84 Plus trouble in the future, but the disqualification of smartphones and other devices from many classrooms and standardized tests should stymie their growth.
- How is the TI-84 Plus able to maintain its market position?
- Will the growth of graphing apps spell the end of the TI-84 Plus?
Source: Matt McFarland, “The Unstoppable TI-84 Plus: How an Outdated Calculator Still Holds a Monopoly on Classrooms,” The Washington Post, September 2, 2014. Photo by William Elwood.