If, like me, you grew up using the classic Texas Instruments calculator as your primary graphing calculator, then the title of this post might be exactly what you, yourself have wondered. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love the TI 84 and the Ti- 89 is amazing and comes full of features like the ability to take derivatives, to factor quadratics and more.
However, let’s focus on the core reason that many U.S. students buy and use TI calculators, and that’s to graph equations. And, on this front, there has been almost no change over the last 10 years. I mean– try graphing y = tan(x) and it looks just like it did 10 years ago (the calc incorrectly draws the vertical asymptotes ). Granted, that’s a relatively small problem and many graphing calculators have the same bug . (In fact, right now we’re working on trying to fix this issue for our own iPhone app–ie not drawing the actual asymptotes themselves. ). The only significant improvement that I know of is the ability to graph equations in the form of s x = k where k is an integer. In other words, you can graph vertical lines like x = 5 or x =3. However, that is a fairly limited use case. Let’s talk about implicit equations. There are several online calculators and app store apps that can render implicit equations. You have to wonder why TI never bothered to implement such a handy features. I mean all of us, at some point, need to graph a circle, right? And, TI had about a decade or so jump on the rest of these modern day calculators that have this feature.
The answer, I believe, is simple–there is no competition. Texas Instruments has a defacto monopoly in U.S. public and private schools. Just look at what your friend’s kids use at school. Odds are its some kind of Texas Instruments brand. Now, with the rise of iOs and Android, things, I am sure, are changing a bit. I know, for instance, that several of our users bought the iPhone app in lieu of a hand held calculator. Nonetheless in terms of the class room, hand held calculators still dominate. My friends kids all, to a kid, has a calculator on their phone and also a hand held TI.
There is one major ‘advantage’ that hand held calculators have over any app, an advantage I don’t see going away any time soon.
No, it’s not some killer feature. Instead, it’s the fact that they do not connect to the internet, and the calculator’s ram can easily be cleared. Both of these features let teachers know that the student is not cheating and unfortunately seems to keep TI’s monopoly pretty safe…so I wouldn’t expect any cool new features from TI . They have no reason to to do it!