In the late 1970s, when Hewlett-Packard wrote the HP-12c, copyright laws were different. If a company or individual didn’t expressly exert their right then the code was freely available for anyone to use. To copyright software, the copyright notice had to appear visibly to the user on the device and it must be noted in the source code. HP failed to do this with their calculators.
What has transpired over the years is a plethora of HP scientific and financial calculator emulators based on the late-70s products, that actually use HP’s original source code. These emulators have been released for every platform you could possibly think of, including at least four HP-12c emulators for the iPhone.
Because there is little difference between these various 12c emulators in the App Store, the Hewlett-Packard official version released last week and the “knock-offs”, I have watched these apps with great interest. It has proven to be an amazing lesson on the power of brand.
The most expensive of these products pre-HP release was the most popular, peaking in the high-20s for Finance Top Paid Apps. The developer was charging $19.99 for it. When HP came on the scene a week or so ago, with a $14.99 price point, the knock-off apps dropped like a rock while HP sky-rocketed, topping out at #1 in Finance Top Paid Apps. (The knock-offs have since recovered somewhat with much lower prices.) No multi-featured calculator product, in the six months I’ve been watching, has been ranked higher than 11 before the official HP-12c release, and that was a $0.99 application.
What has struck me is the power of the brand. Again, there is no discernible difference between HP’s version of the 12c and the knock-offs yet HP was able to run them off. Second, I’m amazed at the power of this ancient brand. It has been able to propel it to the top of the Finance category when far more interesting products have never gotten as close.
And the buzz for the HP-12c has been fantastic. Before HP released the 12c, most of the calculator conversation on the web had been about the built-in calculator’s ability to be turned into a scientific calculator by turning the device sideways. (Or, more worrying, the propensity of iPhone users trying to dial with their calculator.)
While I’m not convinced that brand building happens in the App Store, I am convinced that a powerful brand makes all the difference. The question I ask myself, of course, is how do I build such a powerful brand with FastFigures? Working on this and other questions as you read.
[Note 1: I convinced HP to develop the 12c emulator for iPhone. I was not involved with the development and never asked for nor received compensation for my consulting time with HP. If, however, HP wants to throw some money my way, I’d be happy to take it.]
[Note 2: In case you are wondering, HP’s release of the 12c has not had a negative impact on my sales. FastFigures is not an emulator but instead takes a fresh and truely smartphone look at calculating on the go. If anything our Top Paid position has actually improved over this time period.]