My TI-30X scientific calculator (dating from 1993, made in Italy) died the other day. Actually, it was just the "×" key which stopped working, so I assumed the row and column drivers were OK, and the problem was localized to that key alone. I opened it up, held the transparent plastic-sandwich circuit board (Mylar?) up to the light and looked at it with an 8× magnifier. Sure enough, there was a hairline crack in the PC track.
I thought about repairing it, but it would be tricky, as the track crack was between the plastic layers. I'd have to carefully scrape away some of the plastic, and do a micro-repair—very difficult, time-consuming, and likely to not be very reliable in the end. So it was time to get a replacement for this basic scientific calculator. I assumed I'd have to get a very different model, and then have to learn the tricks, features, supposed enhancements, subtleties, and maybe even the basic keyboard layout of the new unit.
And that's when I was pleasantly surprised when I found the TI-30XA, now made in China, for $10 at my local OfficeMax. What's amazing is how little the TI-30 has changed over almost two decades, see photo:
The TI-30A scientific calculator from 1993 (left) and TI-30XA just purchased.
The case is very slightly different (actually, it's improved, with a better slide-on cover design) but the unit is the same in appearance, form, fit, and functions. I assume the cost is lower now in both list price and inflation-adjusted dollars, but I have no recollection of what I paid for it back in the day. (But at $10, I suspect even a recluse like Sir Isaac Newton would have "killed" to have this much power for so little money). I don’t know what changes the new one has in its internal design or bill of materials, since it haven't opened it (yet), but as a user, what's inside is really not relevant to me.
The fact that the same unit is still available, and pretty much unchanged, really impressed me. Sure, we all have electronic products we use which continue to operate faithfully and reliably, many years after their anticipated market life. (Check out some of the Hewlett-Packard—now Agilent—instrumentation which you'll find still in use, in almost any project development or test lab, for example.)
But this is different than just a product still working fine and in use despite the passage of time. Our focus on consumer products, with their short life cycles, and continuous upgrades (whether wanted or needed, or not) sometimes blinds us to the fact that many products are so good at what they do, and have the right combination of features, design, functions, and user comfort, that they are still being made and sold with no apparent user-centric changes.
This is not an unusual situation for most lower-tech household products; I had not problems buying exact replacements for 25-year-old cabinet hinges. But with our modern electronic products, too often products are obsolete and replaced by "better" versions after just a few years.
Do you have any other examples of high-tech products that are still available after 10 or more years, and with virtually no external changes? ♦