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HP-12C Emulator Blog

The real HP-12C Emulator for appraisers and financial experts

History of the HP-12C. check out the HP museum.

The HP-12C Business Calculator was introduced with the HP-11C on September 1st, 1981. The HP-12C and the slightly revised Platinum version are still on sale today. It is by far HP's most successful and best selling calculator. Indeed its continuing sales may be the main reason why HP still have a calculator operation and continue to make the technical models favoured by most HPCC members. For many years, despite huge sales of inkjet and laser cartridges, the HP-12C continued to be in the top 25 HP products sold by number per year.

The technology of the HP-12C is old enough that HP have several times wished to stop making it - by increasing the price and by introducing alternatives. Sales actually went up following one price rise, and the OmniGo 100 and 120, with a full HP-12C built into them, have been discontinued while the HP-12C continues to sell well. It is now made for HP by a subcontractor, with all the circuitry reduced to a single chip - but it is still made.

This is a remarkable success for what was considered to be a stopgap product - the 11C, 12C and other members of the "Voyager" series (or series 10) were intended to fill the gap between the older Series 30 models with LED displays, and the newer models with dot matrix displays which followed them. Yet this time gap was sufficiently long that customers came to know the HP-12C well, and to continue buying it even after new models with more features became available. It has just the right combination of HP's TVM (Time Value of Money) functions, date calculations, programmability - and yet looks not too complicated - and elegant looks. Its elegance has probably kept it on business users' desks as much as its functionality.

The HP-11C and HP-12C were designed in a horizontal shape, instead of HP's usual vertical format, and were given a metallic edge around the display area. On the HP-11C this metallic edge is silvery, but on the HP-12C it has a yellow-gold tinge, giving it an air of superiority - even opulence. The horizontal shape makes it look more like a tiny computer than a calculator and makes it an ideal object to be placed on desks of business users such as real estate agents or loan experts. Among financial users it is considered to be an "Industry Standard" - which means that it is the model to buy automatically - and that there is a large pool of experienced users who can easily show a new owner how to handle their new HP-12C. Sales of replacements to previous owners who have lost their HP-12C, or who have worn it out by years of continuous use, are probably as high as sales to new users. The HP-12C wears out not because it is cheaply made but because it is so well designed and made that it is heavily used and eventually just stops working.

A final interesting detail is that the horizontal layout and metallic edging came about because the display was found to break when prototype vertical Voyagers were dropped - so the display was placed horizontally - leading to a horizontal layout for the HP-12C - and giving HP their most successful stopgap product ever.

More details of the HP-12C can be found in the HP Calculator Museum.

Michael Wynn Ostrowski 24th January 2022