X Mark II calculator – Phoenix from the ashes

X Mark II calculator – Phoenix from the ashes

“Computing machines are similar to the sorcerers and wizards of fairy tales. They will satisfy your wishes, but they won’t tell you what to wish for.”

(Norbert Wiener, US American mathematician)

For thousands of years people have wracked their brains when they needed to shuffle numbers in their minds, put them in order and solve mathematical equations ranging from the simple to the highly complex. Any calculation becomes even more complex when intermediate results have to be processed further. Therefore, people throughout time have gratefully accepted any idea that would relieve them from calculating in their heads.

When the fingers of both hands were no longer enough for a task, for a long time people resorted to abacuses and later slide rules. When the first electronic computing machines emerged, it was only scientists and an elite group of merchants who benefited from them. Therefore, the public reacted with euphoria when the first pocket calculators were launched onto the market in the 1970s. These included the Canon Pocketronic, which debuted in 1970 and was based on the latest innovative microchip technology – back then developed by Texas Instruments. Available for US $400, this first pocket calculator was a true revolution. By today’s standards, it would be considered huge; still it measured only 10x20x5 cm and thus was tiny compared to the huge table-sized calculators of the day with comparable calculating power. From then on, the triumph of calculators was unstoppable. It was as if mankind had simply been waiting for these devices to emerge: Within as little as five years, calculators grew so small that they could actually fit into a shirt pocket, with millions of units sold over subsequent years at a fraction of the original price for the first mass-produced device. Indeed, pocket calculators quickly turned into cheap commodity products.

Today, only 50 years later, pocket calculators almost seem like fossils to us, relics from another era. Each office workplace and almost all households now have a computer that works out the same results. When on the move, people simply use the calculator in their mobile or smart phone. With such devices, calculators form only a small and rather simple – though natural – part of the entire digital program package. Almost like a nice and useful gimmick. And this is exactly where these calculators are lacking: There is too much window dressing and too little focus – especially for those people who either at school, in training or at their job actually have to depend on calculating.

Pocket calculators like the X Mark II offer a refreshing approach. They force people, at least temporarily, to move their heads away from other screens and focus when using them. A pocket calculator is like a reliable monolith, solid as a rock in a turbulent sea of over-abundant information, a device that people gratefully turn to when they need to solve mathematical equations with utmost concentration. So this pocket calculator delivers exactly what calculators were invented for – nothing more and nothing less – without informing its user about new text messages, calls or the latest software updates.

This concentration on its primary function also characterises the subtle design of the X Mark II. It is as minimalist and slender as possible. At the same time, all elementary parts such as the 30 keys forming a homogeneous user surface are big enough for optimal operation. In general, the tactile appeal and thus the keyboard of a pocket calculator play a central role – it is essential that what one holds in one’s hands is solid and works reliably. The convincing and correct feel of interaction with pocket calculators, the fast and energetic pressing of keys and finally the result appearing immediately on the calculator display is unsurpassed by any other device. The design of the X Mark II thus succinctly sums up the basic idea of all pocket calculators. Furthermore, its high-quality design also lends it a new value, particularly at a time when pocket calculators have almost become throwaway devices. Significantly, the X Mark II is made of recycled materials throughout and runs exclusively on solar power. Thus it embodies both a statement and a status symbol.

Source: Every Product Tells a Story (Red Dot Edition 2014)

Posted on 12.04.2017

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