By Asimzb (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By: Dipak Krishnan, Contributor
Texas Instruments has found its way into my school. Wait, that’s actually incorrect. Texas Instruments found its way into my school a long time ago and has carved out a home for itself ever since. In fact, in preliminary classes, the TI-84 is still preferred to higher tech calculators like the Nspire or the TI-89 or even some Casio calculators.
Why might this be?
First, we have to understand that the TI-84 calculator is an oddity. It’s clunky, technologically primitive, but mysteriously relevant. In an age when technology evolves in the blink of an eye, TI-84 calculators have managed to maintain a constant presence in classrooms across the United States. Texas Instruments has never experienced stagnating interest in the TI-84 family of calculators, now known as the No. 1 bestselling calculators per Amazon. If anything, Texas Instruments has strengthened its grip on the calculator industry even though its bestselling calculator was released in 2004.
Conversely, the cellphone industry provides a perfect example of how quickly technology can change. The constant competition between Samsung, Apple, HTC, Windows and a host of others for supremacy in the cellphone industry generates innovation. These firms have to continually change the hardware and software of their product in order to survive in the industry. If companies don’t improve on their products or lower prices to remain competitive, rapid technological advances overtake them. As seen with Blackberry phones, products can be rendered obsolete very fast.
The TI-84 line doesn’t conform to the modern trends of technological advancement. Rather, it is very much a piece of technology that is correlated to its time. Its screen is a small 96 x 64 pixels, and it has 480 kilobytes of ROM and 24 kilobytes of RAM. The specs of the particular product aren’t very impressive. But yet it still commands a lion’s share of the market and seemingly never loses its place in Math classrooms. In fact, according to NPD, Texas Instruments controls 93 percent of the calculator industry. This monopoly affords Texas Instruments a great amount of pricing power. A TI-84 calculator is usually $99-120 dollars, which is extremely expensive considering its limited capabilities. It also explains why Texas Instruments’ calculators are common in Math classrooms.
But how did Texas Instruments get that much control over the market? And why do people continue to stick to a TI-84 model that should be obsolete by now?
Standardization is the answer to both of those questions.
Teachers need a model that they know well and can be easily taught to students. Through attempts to get teachers comfortable with TI products, Texas Instruments established a solid consumer base. The workshops, run by TI, that introduced thousands of teachers to their products are now greatly benefiting Texas Instruments. Getting teachers comfortable with the products that Texas Instruments provided them was a key first step to control the calculator market.
Likewise, it is easier to teach students if they all have the same calculator. That’s why teachers often recommend students purchase TI-84 calculators. Add that to the fact that the TI-84 covers most of the needs of an average high school student, and you have a product that won’t easily be displaced.
Texas Instruments’ monopoly makes it tough for some students who can’t afford a 100 dollar calculator. However, unless teachers recommend another calculator, Texas Instruments won’t lose its lucrative hold on the calculator industry, and the TI-84 will continue to buck the trends we see every day in the tech world. Which means that the TI-84’s niche inside my school might just get bigger.