#FrenchTechFriday: Numworks revamps the calculator

Sep 22, 2017
Vote on Hacker News

Girl with abacus

Today, we will talk about an object of mass consumption. The calculator. You don’t believe me? Have you ever NOT had a calculator? Has there never ever been a calculator in your home? And it’s a sure thing that you have used one at least once in your life. Two major calculator makers divide the world into pro-Texas Instrument and pro-Casio. But newcomer Numworks wants to play ball too.

What is there to change?

 
Numworks came to be, one and a half year ago. French founder Romain Goyet was walking down the aisle of a supermarket when he stumbled upon a calculator. It cost 180€. He thought there was a mistake in the price and checked on Amazon. There was indeed a difference: on Amazon it only cost 179€!
 
Then, it became obvious to him. Everyone, at one point or other, needs to buy a calculator. Not only are they very expensive but they also rely on a technology that dates back the the seventies. Color screens are expensive, the system is proprietary. There had to be better way.
 

On that one day, a calculator can change your life

Yet, calculators hold this special place in the heart of users. Thanks to it (hopefully), they will succeed at their exams which will, in turn, open new perspectives in their lives. The trustworthiness of the calculator is critical. The ease of use is also a definite plus.
 
The Numworks team (currently around 10 people) started to work on a different calculator. Different is the first thought that springs to mind when you open the box. The packaging almost has an Apple feel and there’s a big thing missing. There is no user manual inside. None, nowhere. Not even to download. This is how confident the team is about how easy the calculator is to use.
 
Something else is sure to raises a few eyebrows. The Numworks is all white. And this is not a mistake. There have been groups of high school students called in to test the calculator. Used to black and blue boxes which breathe out technical geekery, this white, innocent number wrangler called out for a unanimous reaction: “this one looks easy to use!”. And this was even before they had switched it on.
 
The first impression remains after it has been switched on. It feels closer to a smartphone interface than a calculator’s. Most teenagers already know how to navigate the menus.

The real innovation is open source

 
Color and menus aren’t enough to make it new, though. Numworks is dealing new cards with a fresh philosophy. The software is open source, the schematics are available if you wish to build your own or repair a broken part. You can even use it to code with Python.
 
The Numworks has only been out since early September (French back-to-school time), but it already has a large coding community. The collaborative model encourages submissions and upgrades are made simple.
 
The Numworks is not the cheapest calculator. You can buy it for 79€ but Romain emphasizes that most buy a calculator for middle school and a new one for high school. The Numworks being so easy to use, one can keep it all the way through secondary school.

Opened calculator

 

Knocking on the teacher’s door

The best advocates are mostly the science/math teachers so the startup chose to send a calculator to teachers who registered on their website. Some registered a mere 15 minutes after launch and Numworks is now deep in demands to try the new calculator. Curiosity and weariness of the two historic makers seem to be what drives most demands.
 
Released in France and the United States, the first feedbacks are very positive and Numworks will be recruiting in all departements.
 
Sometimes we are so used to something that we cannot imagine it can be changed but the French startup Numworks may hold a few tricks up its sleeves and revamp calculators after all. Feel like going back to school?