Touch-screen smartphones are now the rage these days. To get a taste, just check out this round-up from PCMag featuring the new iPhone and its competitors.
It’s a touch (pun intended) of deja vu reading this present day rage against a talk I saw on TED a year ago, a presentation by Jeff Han on the possibilities of a multi-touch interface which is as far from the present day point and click as the mouse was from a keyboard.
Check out Han’s talk here for reinspiration.
This evolution of interface brings me back to the classic question on the QWERTY keyboard which we have come to accept as a foundation of our present lives. Most people using computers now are no longer familiar with the history of QWERTY–which has its roots in a mechanical limitation of typewriters which necessitated the unique and bizarre arrangement of letters.
In 1714 Henry Mill took out the first patent (number 385) for a typewriter in England. Most of the 100+ early attempts at typewriters were in ABC order, and some to enable the blind to write. Then Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA, invented a typewriter in September 1867. As with previous attempts the keys were in an ABCDEFG layout, and the typists soon got too fast and jammed the keys. The key levers hit the platen from underneath and then fell back down under gravity. He didn’t think to put return springs on to fix the problem.
Instead he solved this by asking his brother in law to devise a different layout of the keys. Publicly he said it was to put the most commonly used letters far apart on the keyboard to reduce the chances of the levers jamming. The result was Qwerty (the Qwerty layout).
Unfortunately, the utility of the arrangement has long since been rendered obsolete since keyboards have not been mechanical for decades. And glaringly, this is one area of technology where tradition supercedes innovation.
Which is why I am happy about touchscreen–finally an INNOVATION that fundamentally changes everything we know, in addition to making our lives more convenient and efficient which is what technology is all about. What the trackball and mouse failed to do, touchscreen and multi-point might.
Or not. As the article above says:
Qwerty’s history is about big money, mass production, a weapons company, monopoly, vested interests, poor design and a total disregard for the best interests of beginners. Qwerty was not designed to improve typing, but to slow typists down for a primitive typewriter that didn’t have return springs.
Like paper tape readers and card punches, Qwerty was created by older technology and is being replaced by better technology. Qwerty’s decline began with the humble mouse, and new technologies will make it obsolete in the short term. Millions now use voice and pen input systems. New technologies such as text messaging, touch-screen systems and PDA’s have prepared for the future with alphabetic layouts now.
If you already use Qwerty, that industry has already taken your time and money learning their layout. There is no point spending more and you should stick with it for the duration, which hopefully won’t be long.
Star Trek Voice recognition is still far away, but meantime, I’ll be poking screens fervently!