On the Ethics of TI-83 Graphing Calculator Pricing
I came across an interesting blog post at _Leaded Soldier_ wherein the author takes apart and repairs an old TI-83+ graphing calculator. While I am most nostalgic for my TI-89 Titanium graphing calculator, I remember all of the TI-83s and 84s that my classmates had. I encourage you to read the original post for a terrific look at the interior of a TI-83 and some notes about how it is constructed. Here, I will look at a couple of passages from the post wherein the author raised serious questions about the price of Texas Instrument’s classic calculators in light of what they most likely cost to produce:
Having opened the 83+, I now understood that it must have cost virtually nothing to construct. There are only a couple inexpensive ICs, and one of them is a proprietary TI gate array that can most likely be fabricated cheaply. Over the course of several decades, they must have been making a large integer multiple of the build cost in pure margin while not updating the product.
While many cheap-to-produce products are sold at exorbitant markups, the author noted that there is an additional issue with the pricing for the TI-83 and its sibling calculators:
This wouldn’t be so bad if not for TI’s pressure campaign to be the mandated calculator for a lot of high school math classes and standardized testing … While a lot of other devices featured on this blog are just toys or luxury goods, this one is an essential tool for kids that is sold at predatory markups.
This is a fair point. My high school required students to have a TI-83 or 84. The 89 was also allowed, but only me and one other classmate opted for the 89 (good choice, for whatever it’s worth – the 89 is demonstrably more pleasant to use than the 83 and 84 even for basic scientific calculator-tier tasks.) But so long as Texas Instruments lobbies schools to make its calculators a requirement, it is unseemly for the company to continue to charge so much for calculators that are (1) cheap to produce and (2) have not been updated for two decades. With that being said, I noticed some fancy new full-color graphing calculators from Texas Instruments while I was looking for a new TI-89 to satisfy my need for nostalgia, but I am not sure if most high schools use those or if they are even allowed on standardized tests.
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