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Old 02-09-2011, 12:59 AM
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Information HP 12c calculator turns 30, hasn’t changed since the day it was born

In the world of technology, gadgets improve drastically from year to year. If you look at the first iPod compared to the most recent iPod touch, for example, you can tell how quickly they’ve progressed from clunky and really only good for storing and playing music, to a device that’s lightweight, thin, has a touch interface, and can connect you to the web, among many other features. It’s rare to see a device go unchanged as the years go by, but one device has stayed pretty much the same for the past 30 years and is still as popular as ever today.

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Back in 1981, HP released the HP 12c, the world’s first horizontal financial calculator. Today, three decades later, the calculator is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a special limited edition model. Unless you work in the business world, you may have never seen this little guy. It’s definitely not on your school supply list, unlike its clunky cousin the scientific graphing calculator. However, the 12c has been in continual production since it was first released.
The 12c quickly became the top calculator in the banking, real estate, and finance industries and is the most legally recognized standard among financial professionals. According to Dennis Harms, the 12c calculator R&D project manager at HP, before the 12c came along, you’d have to use a book full of tables to complete any mortgage calculations. Talk about old school. Harms said the team actually found errors in the tables when building the calculator, so the 12c actually made it possible for people to get the most accurate number.
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According to Gene Wright, analytics manager for Griffin Technology, and an HP 12c expert, HP had been focusing its attention on the enterprise market until 1981 and didn’t actually have much of a setup to handle money from regular consumers. So, all the checks HP received from people buying the 12c sat in a filing cabinet until the company realized they had $1 million in checks just sitting there. Talk about foreshadowing of the popularity to come.
The 12c also made Reverse Polish Notation extremely easy to use, which made it very popular among Wall Street and finance professionals. The four most basic types of calculator user interface are: Arithmetic, ATH; Algebraic, ALG; Reverse Polish Notation, RPN; and Command Line Interface, CLI. RPN is generally the most useful and efficient way to save a very large class of problems. Compared to algebra, there are less rules that are far more simple to use.

The 12c also allows the user to write programs. Its programming mode is very intuitive and works like a macro operation on a computer. As for the hardware, the 12c uses an ARM processor — an update that came in 2008. Before that, the calculator would take a few seconds to compute the calculation, but Wright said the updated version is said to be about 100 to 150 times faster than the original. Besides that and the “30th Anniversary Edition” sketched into the metal, there’s really no difference between this version and the one you bought five years ago. You can see the 30th Anniversary Edition compared to the same model from a few years ago in the photo above.
HP is also reintroducing the HP 15c scientific calculator that was first launched in 1982. The 15c is for scientists and engineers what the 12c is for real estate agents and bankers. Like the 12c, it also features RPN entry and is programmable. It was retired in 1989 and made a reentry as a mobile app. However, for a limited time, HP is making the 15c available with the same design as the ’89 model, but this time around it has a processing speed that’s 100 times faster.
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Only 40,000 of the 30th anniversary 12c models will be made, and as you can see in the photo above, each model has a laser-etched number so you know you’re actually getting a limited edition product.
It’s pretty impressive that a calculator has outlived NASA’s space shuttle program, which also started in 1981 but sadly ended this year. That same year saw the first video launch on MTV.
The HP12c financial calculator is available now at HP Home and Home Office for $79.99. The 15c scientific calculator will be available later this month for $99.99.


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