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TI adds organizer to calculator

The company releases a combination graphing calculator and handheld organizer aimed at high-school students.

For Texas Instruments, new math means adding a calculator and a handheld organizer.

The Dallas-based company released on Tuesday the TI-83 Plus Silver Edition, a combination graphing calculator and handheld organizer aimed at high-school students. The $129 Silver Edition is an update to the TI-83 Plus but comes with significantly more memory for storing software.

The Silver Edition includes 1.5MB of flash memory--about 10 times more than its predecessor--and 24K of RAM. Students can also change the device's color by sliding on a red, yellow, green or purple case.

Merging devices, such as a cell phone with a handheld computer, has often led to disappointing results for manufacturers. In that vein, Hewlett-Packard dropped plans to introduce a combination calculator/handheld earlier this year.

The trick seems to be in managing expectations, said Tom Ferrio, vice president of TI's calculator unit.

"Growth in the education market is always pretty stable, and we've learned that over our...years in this business," Ferrio said.

Ferrio expects the percentage growth in the market to be in the "high single-digit" range. Last year, TI shipped more than 2 million TI-83 Plus devices.

Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds said TI has established a name for itself, making it difficult for competitors to elbow their way into the education market.

"TI calculators are specifically written into teaching materials, which makes it tough for any other manufacturer to break into that market," Martin said.

TI has been busy integrating new functions into its Silver Edition to maintain its lock on the education market. In addition to graphing "10 rectangular functions, six parametric expressions, six polar expressions, and three recursively-defined sequences," the Silver Edition can store to-do lists, class schedules, appointments, phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

The device, which can hold up to 94 software programs, comes loaded with several applications, such as the periodic table and study cards.

Ferrio said the company increased the flash memory because the sharing of applications has grown in popularity. Students can add new applications by synchronizing the device with a PC via a cable that's included. The 1.5MB of flash memory is almost comparable to basic handheld computers that generally come with 2MB.

The company also offers a software kit, the TI-83 Plus SDK, to help students develop and distribute applications to their classmates.

The TI-83 Plus devices are part of TI's larger TI-Navigator system, a network connecting the devices of everyone in a classroom.