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Can HP Reinvent Perfection?
By Kim Girard

(Business 2.0) – Introduced in 1981, Hewlett-Packard's 12c financial calculator is an icon. Two generations of accountants, stockbrokers, and MBAs have sworn by the handheld--which explains why HP hasn't changed so much as a button on its black-and-gold casing. It's also legendarily rugged. One 12c survived not only the digestive tract of a hippopotamus but also the subsequent (and very necessary) cleaning.

The rabid following explains why HP can charge $80 for the calculator, even as competitors like Texas Instruments have introduced models that are cheaper and easier to use. TI now holds two-thirds of the $503 million calculator market, while HP's share has slipped to less than 2 percent. To get back in the game, HP recently introduced an updated version, the 12c Platinum: It retains the classic's configuration but substitutes silvery trim for gold and adds 10 new functions, a lithium battery, and an algebraic data-entry option.

Another classic in the making? Not quite. Retailers report that Platinum sales have been ho-hum--while sales for the gold model have spiked. (Devotees concluded--wrongly--that it would be discontinued.) HP isn't giving up, however; the next model will include wireless networking. -- KIM GIRARD