10 Mar 2010 9:35 pm   //   Filed under: No right to be good, Technology

Good as new

Here’s one of the greatest success stories in technology: The HP 12C financial calculator. It was introduced in 1981 and is still selling. After a generation of seismic advancements in technology, this weird horizontal calculator has kept its edge. It costs $70 and people still buy it.

Name something else battery-powered that hasn’t changed since 1981. I’ve got nothing. Blackberries and iPhones seldom last two years before better ones come out, yet this calculator could bury us all. Now I don’t work in finance and I’m far from an expert in calculators, so I can’t explain in detail what’s so amazing about this device. But I know calculators are a competitive space. This one’s success can’t just be an accident of history or the result of marketing. It’s adoption isn’t a requirement; surely there are other calculators that fit with today’s business conventions.

It could only have survived this long by being good. Good enough to be deeply loved by exactly the right customers. The HP 12C designers nailed it. They achieved something unheard of in technology: perfection. If we’re lucky, once in our lifetimes we’ll work on a team that does that.