- HP Prime Multitouch Graphing Calculator: The Scoop

09 May 2013 04:00:00 am - 09 May 2013 12:14:49 pm
- Last edited by KermMartian on 10 May 2013 11:56:13 am; edited 3 times in total

Early this week, I had the pleasure of speaking at length with GT Springer, the Education Solutions Architect for HP's calculator division. We discussed the upcoming HP Prime graphing calculator, and I was interested to learn about quite a few unique features of the new calculator. We touched on the programmability of the device, the pedagogy of the pre-loaded applications, the intriguing graphing tools it includes, and much more. I will soon have a full set of technical specifications and some screenshots of the graphing application in action, but for now, read on for the full interview summary.

Cemetech: Please give us an initial overview of the HP Prime calculator.

GT: The HP Prime launched at this year's annual National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) conference. It won't be available until Fall, but the software was far enough along for a demo and a few teacher presentations at the conference. The HP Prime is a multitouch, full-color graphing calculator. The architecture is based on the HP-39gII; it does have HP Apps, and it incorporates a CAS in a very different way from competitors. For HP's competitors [TI and Casio, specifically], a CAS machine always has a CAS.

For us, the CAS is more like an app, so you can chose to use the CAS, or you can just use Home View (the numerical solver) for simple math and calculations. There are also a number of specialized editors for lists, matrices, programs, etc. You can easily use data between the CAS and Home View modes. The HP Apps are the basis for the useability and learnability of the device. We enforce a fairly strict structure in Apps. All have Views, and each of those Views map directly to the NCTM standards: numerical, symbolic, etc. Views, each with dedicated buttons on the calculator. Each View has a setup screen accessed via [shift][that button]. The re-use of Views across Apps gives the device a high degree of learnability. Each of the Apps encapsulates specific functionality and uses that to store results in variables. Apps can share those variables (and users can access Apps' functionality from HomeView); programs can access those as well.

Cemetech: What Apps particularly stand out for you?

GT: There are three Apps that are unique to the Prime: (1) Dynamic Geometry, (2) Spreadsheet, and (3) Advanced Graphing. The Advanced Graphing App can handle virtually anything on an XY plane, including things like 1<0, 1>0, and any conic section. It doesn't sample x and paint y pixels [like the TI-83+/84+ and the TI-Nspire]; it uses an interval arithmetic approach. It can also handle implicit relations and inequalities. If you enter x^2+y^2<16, it will graph the disk. We have been finding a lot of interest from the teacher community about this feature. I think there's an opportunity for teachers to get excited about new areas. For example, when we showed y mod x = 3, most of the teachers hadn't thought about what a function like that would look like.

The Spreadsheet App allows us to choose whether to use simple numerical features or the CAS engine on a single-cell, single-row/column, or whole-spreadsheet granularity. You can even do things like x^row+1, and fill whole spreadsheet with that. The new Dynamic Geometry App has some parallels to Geogebra; it has different Views, one where you build calculations/measurements, one for plotting, and so on. Teachers will think of plenty of applications for these that they haven't of course.

Cemetech: Tell me about the multitouch touchscreen. Have you done student testing yet? Will this device be accepted on standardized tests (which currently prohibit touchscreen devices)?

GT: We decided to make it a multitouch device; we stuck to three design principles while creating the device: (1) provide a high degree of mathematical fidelity; (2) give students the touch they've come to expect from their technology; (3) retain a familiar framework for solving mathematical problems. For example, In the Spreadsheet, you can use a multitouch pinch gesture to widen spreadsheet row. I'd describe our attitude towards the Prime as "careful progress with an eye toward the future". It's still a little too early to talk about student testing; we're still in the early days of our understanding of touch technology in the classroom.

The touch features are somewhat restricted: you can't sketch out or write down answers to steal them from an exam, for example. The CollegeBoard will probably not be ones to stifle progress in education technology. We're cautiously optimistic to make it possible for examination boards to see this as a touch-based graphing calculator, not a general touch-based device. It has a very typical graphing calculator keyboard, for example.

The Prime also has an examination mode: teachers can create custom configurations for tests, including disabling the CAS, disable any specific Apps, can start with fresh Apps (which follow a document-like model [like the TI-Nspire]) or just disable saved apps with saved notes/data. There are also three LEDs at the top of the device that will blink those in a random pattern based on the testing configuration. Although the pattern is random, they will blink in sync with other devices with the same configuration. We believe we provide a level of security above that of the competitors.

Cemetech: What connectivity and programming options will the HP Prime provide?

GT: We will provide computer software that allows you to enter data, write user programs, etc directly on a computer. You can attach user programs to Apps; for example, you could write a program to extend the Function App. It's even more extensible because you could eg write a program named PLOT. In the Function App, you could press PLOT and have that PLOT program run, then go to the plot View. The on-calculator language will be similar to the HP-39gII's language; I don't know of a C SDK planned, but I can check.

We decided to extend the connectivity kit: we will provide a wireless module that clips into the microUSB port, with a corresponding accessory that connects to teacher's PC. We don't use 802.11 because we don't want the teacher to have to do a lot of setup. It's more like your wireless keyboard/mouse: you plug it in and it works. Teachers can use it to do formative assessment in class. You could collect results from a poll during an AP Stats class, then send cumulative results back to students' devices for analysis for homework.

As far as connecting to sensors, our competitors do data logging, collecting so many samples per second. Our approach is more like the monitoring systems students would see in professional lives. The calculator automatically detects sensors and starts streaming data from the sensors; you see the stream as a graph. There are four sensors channels, so you could get (say) a thousand samples/second with one sensor, or have the calculator intelligently allocate the available bandwidth among four sensors.

Cemetech: Who would you say your target audience for the HP Prime is?

GT: I suspect there will be a Venn diagram of customers: it will be useful for high school students, but with the Solve App and with "Full Unit Support" and the CAS it will be of interest to engineering and math universities. The programming features will also appeal to college students. The ability to pre-populate data into Apps so that every student starts on the same page during a class discussion will be attractive to high school math teachers/students.

Cemetech: Will RPN be available? What about 3D graphing?

GT: RPN will be a mode setting, and still very much a first-class citizen. This is a departure from the 39gII, where RPN was relegated to an App. The RPN availability will help make it more attractive in a university setting. 3D graphing will not be in the first release. It's in our list of "nice to have", but it's not vital for the first release.

Cemetech: Thank you!

We were able to get an additional note from Jason Smith, the Product Manager for HP's calculator division, about the Prime's name:

Thanks to HP for being forthcoming with these details. Cemetech will soon be getting you screenshots of that new graphing application in action, a full set of technical specifications, and eventually, a hands-on review of the device.

Cemetech: Please give us an initial overview of the HP Prime calculator.

GT: The HP Prime launched at this year's annual National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) conference. It won't be available until Fall, but the software was far enough along for a demo and a few teacher presentations at the conference. The HP Prime is a multitouch, full-color graphing calculator. The architecture is based on the HP-39gII; it does have HP Apps, and it incorporates a CAS in a very different way from competitors. For HP's competitors [TI and Casio, specifically], a CAS machine always has a CAS.

For us, the CAS is more like an app, so you can chose to use the CAS, or you can just use Home View (the numerical solver) for simple math and calculations. There are also a number of specialized editors for lists, matrices, programs, etc. You can easily use data between the CAS and Home View modes. The HP Apps are the basis for the useability and learnability of the device. We enforce a fairly strict structure in Apps. All have Views, and each of those Views map directly to the NCTM standards: numerical, symbolic, etc. Views, each with dedicated buttons on the calculator. Each View has a setup screen accessed via [shift][that button]. The re-use of Views across Apps gives the device a high degree of learnability. Each of the Apps encapsulates specific functionality and uses that to store results in variables. Apps can share those variables (and users can access Apps' functionality from HomeView); programs can access those as well.

Cemetech: What Apps particularly stand out for you?

GT: There are three Apps that are unique to the Prime: (1) Dynamic Geometry, (2) Spreadsheet, and (3) Advanced Graphing. The Advanced Graphing App can handle virtually anything on an XY plane, including things like 1<0, 1>0, and any conic section. It doesn't sample x and paint y pixels [like the TI-83+/84+ and the TI-Nspire]; it uses an interval arithmetic approach. It can also handle implicit relations and inequalities. If you enter x^2+y^2<16, it will graph the disk. We have been finding a lot of interest from the teacher community about this feature. I think there's an opportunity for teachers to get excited about new areas. For example, when we showed y mod x = 3, most of the teachers hadn't thought about what a function like that would look like.

The Spreadsheet App allows us to choose whether to use simple numerical features or the CAS engine on a single-cell, single-row/column, or whole-spreadsheet granularity. You can even do things like x^row+1, and fill whole spreadsheet with that. The new Dynamic Geometry App has some parallels to Geogebra; it has different Views, one where you build calculations/measurements, one for plotting, and so on. Teachers will think of plenty of applications for these that they haven't of course.

Cemetech: Tell me about the multitouch touchscreen. Have you done student testing yet? Will this device be accepted on standardized tests (which currently prohibit touchscreen devices)?

GT: We decided to make it a multitouch device; we stuck to three design principles while creating the device: (1) provide a high degree of mathematical fidelity; (2) give students the touch they've come to expect from their technology; (3) retain a familiar framework for solving mathematical problems. For example, In the Spreadsheet, you can use a multitouch pinch gesture to widen spreadsheet row. I'd describe our attitude towards the Prime as "careful progress with an eye toward the future". It's still a little too early to talk about student testing; we're still in the early days of our understanding of touch technology in the classroom.

The touch features are somewhat restricted: you can't sketch out or write down answers to steal them from an exam, for example. The CollegeBoard will probably not be ones to stifle progress in education technology. We're cautiously optimistic to make it possible for examination boards to see this as a touch-based graphing calculator, not a general touch-based device. It has a very typical graphing calculator keyboard, for example.

The Prime also has an examination mode: teachers can create custom configurations for tests, including disabling the CAS, disable any specific Apps, can start with fresh Apps (which follow a document-like model [like the TI-Nspire]) or just disable saved apps with saved notes/data. There are also three LEDs at the top of the device that will blink those in a random pattern based on the testing configuration. Although the pattern is random, they will blink in sync with other devices with the same configuration. We believe we provide a level of security above that of the competitors.

Cemetech: What connectivity and programming options will the HP Prime provide?

GT: We will provide computer software that allows you to enter data, write user programs, etc directly on a computer. You can attach user programs to Apps; for example, you could write a program to extend the Function App. It's even more extensible because you could eg write a program named PLOT. In the Function App, you could press PLOT and have that PLOT program run, then go to the plot View. The on-calculator language will be similar to the HP-39gII's language; I don't know of a C SDK planned, but I can check.

We decided to extend the connectivity kit: we will provide a wireless module that clips into the microUSB port, with a corresponding accessory that connects to teacher's PC. We don't use 802.11 because we don't want the teacher to have to do a lot of setup. It's more like your wireless keyboard/mouse: you plug it in and it works. Teachers can use it to do formative assessment in class. You could collect results from a poll during an AP Stats class, then send cumulative results back to students' devices for analysis for homework.

As far as connecting to sensors, our competitors do data logging, collecting so many samples per second. Our approach is more like the monitoring systems students would see in professional lives. The calculator automatically detects sensors and starts streaming data from the sensors; you see the stream as a graph. There are four sensors channels, so you could get (say) a thousand samples/second with one sensor, or have the calculator intelligently allocate the available bandwidth among four sensors.

Cemetech: Who would you say your target audience for the HP Prime is?

GT: I suspect there will be a Venn diagram of customers: it will be useful for high school students, but with the Solve App and with "Full Unit Support" and the CAS it will be of interest to engineering and math universities. The programming features will also appeal to college students. The ability to pre-populate data into Apps so that every student starts on the same page during a class discussion will be attractive to high school math teachers/students.

Cemetech: Will RPN be available? What about 3D graphing?

GT: RPN will be a mode setting, and still very much a first-class citizen. This is a departure from the 39gII, where RPN was relegated to an App. The RPN availability will help make it more attractive in a university setting. 3D graphing will not be in the first release. It's in our list of "nice to have", but it's not vital for the first release.

Cemetech: Thank you!

We were able to get an additional note from Jason Smith, the Product Manager for HP's calculator division, about the Prime's name:

**Jason Smith wrote:**

The name of HP Prime has several layers of meaning for us. We wanted to choose a name that was significant on a few different levels. Firstly, Prime is the first HP calculator in 40 years to have no number in the name. It symbolizes a change in how calculators are used in classrooms and professionally. Prime also implies that it is the flagship of our calculator products. It is the sleekest, most powerful and elegant calculator we have ever made. Things like the multi-touch, color display and advanced graphing engine are examples of this. Lastly, prime numbers are special in that they are the building blocks of composite numbers. Similarly, we view HP Prime as a new foundation on which HP calculators and solutions will be built.

Thanks to HP for being forthcoming with these details. Cemetech will soon be getting you screenshots of that new graphing application in action, a full set of technical specifications, and eventually, a hands-on review of the device.