When students take out their calculators in math class, the devices most likely bear the logo of Texas Instruments Inc. The company, which invented the hand-held calculator 40 years ago, has carved out a school franchise that its rivals find hard to penetrate.
“TI’s genius was to recognize that the key to the acceptance of its technology in schools was tying it to the existing curriculum—everything follows from there,” says Elliot Soloway, a University of Michigan education professor and a pioneer in the use of hand-held computers in education. “They got well accepted by math educators.”
Other technology companies, he says, should learn from Texas Instruments’ example.
The Dallas-based semiconductor manufacturer has courted teachers by providing training at conferences, disseminating teacher-developed activities, and giving or lending equipment for teacher institutes in districts that buy its devices. TI has won over many school administrators by developing extensive instructional resources and training for teachers and by persuading publishers to create TI-specific supplements included with major math textbooks.
Texas Instruments says it holds 60 percent of the market for the scientific and graphing calculators used in middle school, high school, and university-level education, with sales of graphing calculators at between 3 million and 4 million such devices a year.
Rivals Casio America Inc. and the Hewlett-Packard Co. do not publicize their market shares. But HP is widely used in universities, suggesting that TI may claim an even greater chunk of the K-12 market.
TI’s profits from its education division, a record $200 million in 2006, will likely grow, in light of the renewed attention being given to math, science, and technology education.
A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2008 edition of Digital Directions as Four Decades of Domination