The days of Texas Instrument’s near-monopoly on high school math classrooms are coming to a jubilant end.
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High school could have been heavenly or hellish for you, but either way, it’s likely you carried around a graphing calculator made by Texas Instruments.

You probably remember your math instructor informing you that you had to go buy a specific model of a calculator (TI-80-something) in order to do your homework. Soon after, your parents likely suffered sticker shock when you purchased the pricey piece of equipment necessary to pass your class — a plastic brick better known as a graphing calculator.

If you remember correctly, public and private schools alike rarely shoulder the cost of these must-have items.

Even worse, in my day, I wasn’t able to use my older brother’s old calculator in my trigonometry class. That’s because Texas Instruments had made updates that rendered my brother’s graphing calculator obsolete.

Needless markup

The Washington Post a few years ago pointed out that the TI-84, with a whopping 128 kilobytes of RAM is about the same price as an iPod touch with 16 gigabytes of memory. Even today, a TI-84 costs $200 on Amazon.

Essentially, Texas Instruments is selling high school students decades-old technology at prices that even make Apple, a company who is notorious for their markup, look affordable. Texas Instruments  controls more than 90 percent of the market, and only really have one major competitor, Casio, who charges significantly less and still makes a hefty profit on its products.

Texas Instruments has maintained its dominance in math classes across the country because it has a very effective outreach program. They have programs that engage teachers and students and keep them loyal to their brand. Texas Instruments has sold a remarkable 75 million of these calculators over the years, amounting to a very lucrative venture for the company.

Luckily, there’s a new start-up challenging Texas Instrument’s dominance in this space that’s enormously ripe for disruption.

Dismantling the near-monopoly

Quartz magazine spotlighted Desmos, the new startup that offers a free online graphing calculator that is very similar to the Texas Instruments TI calculator. Already, it’s catching on like wildfire all over the world for obvious reasons. Beyond being free, online and accessible to all, it has additional features that are not available on the TI. This makes it an all-around better substitute to the horrendously out-of-date TI calculator.

But before you jump up and rejoice at this newest development, there are still some setbacks that still have to be reckoned with before Desmos and possibly other startups are adopted as universally as the TI calculator.

Almost there, but not quite

First of all, cheating is a major problem in all classrooms, and having open access to the internet during a test can be problematic when administering exams. Desmos is forging partnerships with testing companies such as the College Board to see if they can find a solution to this.

But fear not, it’s not going to be easy street much longer for Texas Instruments. Fortunately, most testing will go digital in coming years, meaning that a online graphing calculator will probably be integrated into major tests in the near future.

In the meantime, some students and their parents will still have to shell out the money for these calculators if they want to use them during one of the life-altering standardized tests such as the ACT and the SAT.

Takeaway: Welcome to the age of disruption

Texas Instruments had a nice run, bringing in handsome profits with almost nil innovation. But their calculator is a blast from the past, and it needs to be replaced with something that’s updated and radically more affordable. That’s where Desmos comes in for high school math students everywhere.

Welcome to the age of disruption, where no industry is insulated from technological advancement. In a blink of an eye, a mighty company can fall off its high horse and see its near-monopoly disappear.

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Header image: Adobe Stock

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Posted 05.15.2017 - 02:53 pm EDT