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Back to the future at HP

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on July 12, 2007

One of the most important tools from the early days of computing is about to make a comeback—sort of. Back in the early 1970s, the Hewlett Packard HP 35 scientific calculator was the indispensable tool of engineers, who until then had mainly made do with slide rules.

hp35-1.jpgToday, 35 years after the 35’s introduction, HP announced the HP 35s. Its more of an homage to the original than a recreation. The original 35 had 35 buttons, the 35s has 43, but each of them has at least two functions. It has lost the simple color-coding of the buttons, allegedly a personal contribution of HP founder Bill Hewitt, but gained a two-line display.

Probably the most significant change, though, is the price. The HP 35 cost $395--nearly $2,000 in today's dollars, adjusted for inflation--though the price fell to $295 before the model was discontinued in favor of the HP 45 in 1975. The 35s will be introduced at $60.

Engineers today have extremely powerful computational tools, such as Wolfram Research's Mathematica and Maplesoft's Maple. But for a lot of chores, especially one-time calculations, the hand-held calculator remains the tool of choice because it's faster and easier to use.

Reader Comments

teh Chekt

July 13, 2007 1:26 PM

The nostalgia this unleashes!

I still carry my 24 yr. old HP-11C and
I still like the colors. I have a
hard time giving it up for my TI-89
(I prefer doing calculus by hand).


July 27, 2007 1:30 PM

Surprise Surprise!

I never thought anything could top my old 11c but this sure comes close. Many things are actually simpler and easier! What?

My favorite improvement is that you can use the calculator while it is still in the case. This may not sound like much but I really like it. It keeps you from misplacing the case (something I do all the time) and it protects the back of the case from scratches. I have a near mint 12c (1987) and the only blemish is a small scratch on the back.

The display is almost as good as the 11c and a vast improvement over the 33s. You can now see the decimal point without a magnifying class. The same is true for the keyboard layout. Clean and neat just like the 11c and WAY better the that confused mess that is the 33s.

I never thought I would say this but the programming is better than the 11c. SHOCK! The best thing is the way the program lines are displayed. It shows the line and the program that it is associated with instead of just number, 001 in the 11c. The 35s shows A001 indicating that this line is associated with program A. I like it!

Another program improvement is the way the function is displayed. It shows what the functions is, like X for times instead of the key location 20 (line 2, key 10) as in the 11c. This a big help in debugging a program. Almost as useful is the up and down caret key to move through a program.

The only really dysfunctional item is the orientation of the yellow and blue arrow keys. They refer to the keyboard layout of the 33s. Doh! They should be: LEFT to RIGHT up for the yellow key and left to right DOWN! for the blue key. Maybe they will fix this on latter production runs and I will have a rarity. Ya, right.

All in all I really like this machine. It may finally be time to retire the 11c and 15c to the display case. Looks like they have been replaced.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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