This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 9, 2013 10:48 AM. The previous post in this blog was Walking really is faster than the Portland streetcar. The next post in this blog is From Matt Wuerker. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Saturday, February 9, 2013

When dialing meant dialing

The guy who took telephones from round dials to push buttons, and oversaw many other developments on the user side of phone technology, has left the planet after a long, rich life. His name was John Karlin, and he lived in New Jersey.

Comments (10)

I wonder if he's responsible for the difference between a phone keypad (123 on the top row) and a telephone keypad (789).

Oops. For that second keypad I should have written "calculator" instead of "telephone".

Allan, my "dad" sent me this when I sent him that obit:

I have to admit that I am still disappointed that he did not go with the "calculator" layout.  I could touch type calculators and adding machines without looking at the keys, something I have never been able to do with phones. The calculator layout is still the one used on computer keyboards, and I really wonder if Bell didn't choose the reverse layout "just because they could."  True story:  When the world was moving to touch tones rather than dials, the Europeans and Japan (ITU)  had settled on a particular set of frequencies that was different, more reliable, and simpler to generate than what ATT/Bell was proposing.  Bells response was, "We have over half the world's telephones on our system, so you can adopt our plan or be incompatible."  Note: this was before any touch tone phones had ever been put into service outside of a laboratory

Bell did not want the key pad the same as a calculator. Their early systems could not keep up with speed of a person using a calculator by touch.

TR, I wondered whether this was a qwerty thing (purposeful use of inferior arrangement to insert just enough friction to allow the technology to keep up with the user) ... Do you have a source for that?

What's a telephone?

I have a unique early Western Electric Bell telephone: a touch tone phone with an auto-dialer.

It uses plastic punch cards that you insert into a slot above the keypad array. After inserting the card into the spring loaded slot, you press a release that slowly ejects the card, and the holes in the card close switches to generate the touch tones for each desired number.


Those were the days.

There are some of us who can remember phones before rotary dials and a time when it took about 20 minutes to get a coast to coast long distance connection.

In the late 1960s Allan Sherman lightheartedly complained about Mr. Karlin's project to convert to all-digit dialing in his song "Let's All Call up AT&T And Protest to the President March." I remember this unintentionally prophetic bit:
"So protest / do your best
Let us show him that we march in unity.
If he won't / change the rules
Let's take our business to another phone company!" Mr. Sherman would never have dreamed that 10 years after he died, AT&T would be broken up.

Clicky Web Analytics