In­ven­tive Ge­nius: The Mod­ern Typewriter

The Borneo Post - Good English - - Front Page -

CHRISTO­PHER Latham Sholes patented the first prac­ti­cal mod­ern typewriter in 1868.

Soon af­ter, the Rem­ing­ton Company be­gan mass mar­ket­ing the first type­writ­ers.

There are sev­eral leg­ends around the de­vel­op­ment of the QWERTY key­board lay­out, which was patented by Sholes and his part­ner James Dens­more in 1878.

As to why this key­board lay­out was cho­sen, it had to do with func­tion­al­ity.

Early typ­ists pressed a key which would, in turn, push a metal ham­mer that would rise up in an arc, strike an inked rib­bon mak­ing a mark on a pa­per and then re­turn to its orig­i­nal po­si­tion. Separat­ing com­mon pairs of let­ters min­imised the jam­ming of the mech­a­nism.

As the ma­chine tech­nol­ogy im­proved, other key­board align­ments were in­vented that claimed to be more ef­fi­cient, such as the Dvo­rak key­board patented in 1936.

In the 1930s, new key­board mod­els were in­tro­duced that com­bined the in­put and print­ing tech­nol­ogy of type­writ­ers with the com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy of the tele­graph. Punched card sys­tems were also com­bined with type­writ­ers to cre­ate what was called key­punches. These sys­tems were the ba­sis of early adding ma­chines (early cal­cu­la­tors), which were hugely com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful. By 1931, IBM had sold over one mil­lion dol­lars worth of adding ma­chines.

Key­punch tech­nol­ogy was in­cor­po­rated into the de­signs of the ear­li­est com­put­ers, in­clud­ing the 1946 Eniac com­puter, which used a punched card reader as its in­put and out­put de­vice. In 1948, an­other com­puter called the Binac com­puter used an elec­tro-me­chan­i­cally con­trolled typewriter to in­put data di­rectly onto mag­netic tape in or­der to feed in com­puter data and print re­sults. The emerg­ing elec­tric typewriter fur­ther im­proved the tech­no­log­i­cal mar­riage be­tween the typewriter and the com­puter.

In the 1990s, hand­held de­vices in­tro­duc­ing mo­bile com­put­ing be­came avail­able to con­sumers. The first of hand­held de­vices was the HP95LX, re­leased in 1991 by Hewlett-Packard. It was a clamshell for­mat that was small enough to fit in the hand. Al­though not yet classified as such, the HP95LX was the first of the Per­sonal Data As­sis­tants (PDAs). It had a small QWERTY key­board for text en­try, al­though touch typ­ing was im­pos­si­ble due to its small size.

Ap­ple’s New­ton project in 1993 was ex­pen­sive and its hand­writ­ing recog­ni­tion was par­tic­u­larly poor. Gold­berg and Richard­son, two re­searchers at Xerox in Palo Alto, in­vented a sim­pli­fied sys­tem of pen strokes called “Unistrokes,” a sort of short­hand that con­verted each let­ter of the English al­pha­bet into sin­gle strokes that users would in­put into their de­vices. Palm Pi­lot, re­leased in 1996, was an in­stant hit, in­tro­duc­ing the Graf­fiti technique, which was closer to the Ro­man al­pha­bet and in­cluded a way to in­put cap­i­tal and low­er­case char­ac­ters. Other non-key­board in­puts of the era in­cluded the MDTIM was pub­lished by Poika Isokoski, and Jot in­tro­duced by Mi­crosoft.

The prob­lems with all these tech­nolo­gies are the data cap­ture takes more mem­ory and is less ac­cu­rate than dig­i­tal key­boards. As mo­bile de­vices such as smart­phones grew in pop­u­lar­ity, many dif­fer­ently for­mat­ted key­board pat­terns were tested—the is­sue be­came how to get one small enough to use ac­cu­rately. One fairly pop­u­lar method was the “soft key­board.”

A soft key­board is one that has a visual dis­play with a built-in touch­screen tech­nol­ogy, and text en­try is per­formed by tap­ping on keys with a sty­lus or fin­ger. The soft key­board dis­ap­pears when not in use. QWERTY key­board lay­outs are most fre­quently used with soft key­boards, but there were oth­ers, such as the FITALY, Cubon, and OPTI soft key­boards, as well as a sim­ple list­ing of al­pha­betic let­ters.

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