February 9, 2013

Modern Artifacts: All things telephone

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 9:50 am

John E. Karlin, Who Led the Way to All-Digit Dialing, Dies at 94

Apparently he designed everything on the phone from the length of the cord to the number sequence to the format of the keypad:

By the late 1950s, when touch-tone dialing — much faster than rotary — seemed an inevitability, Mr. Karlin’s group began to study what form the phone of the future should take. Keypad configurations examined included Mr. Mallina’s, one with buttons in a circle, another with buttons in an arc, and a rectangular pad.

The victorious design, based on the group’s studies of speed, accuracy and users’ own preferences, used keys half an inch square. The keypad itself was rectangular, comprising 10 keys: a 3-by-3 grid spanning 1 through 9, plus zero, centered below. Today’s omnipresent 12-button keypad, with star and pound keys flanking the zero, grew directly from this model.

Putting “1-2-3” on the pad’s top row instead of the bottom (the configuration used, then as now, on adding machines and calculators) was also born of Mr. Karlin’s group: they found it made for more accurate dialing.

And, looking at my keyboard, I see the 1-2-3 is at the bottom. Odd, but I never had a problem with that. When I first worked at a bank in the 1980s, I said I knew how to use a number pad by touch (which I didn’t), but quickly learned — and can still do it to this day. I was around for the switch from dial to touch-tone phones, but not for the change to 7-digit numbers; the earlier format I don’t remember at all. For you young’uns, we used to hate people with phone numbers with a lot of big numbers in them because it would take so long for the dial to rotate back.

Interestingly, I got one of those Pottery Barn retro-style phones with a keypad in the shape of a dial, and I had tremendous difficulty using it! Even though I grew up on a dial phone, I had to think and think and think whenever I dialed on it. Love that phone, btw, but I haven’t been able to use it because of our phone setup.

I also remember when we were first able to buy phones not from ‘the phone company’. The first one I bought was like this one:

But it was just a bit wider than the handset, it didn’t have to side part to the base. I thought that was just sooooo cool. . . .not a black AT&T phone! But my parents had theirs for years and years on the wall in the kitchen. I think it was still a dial phone well into the 1990s.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress