Bill Buxton, who’s been working with interactive gestures for decades now, offered some corrections to the text of the book, around the history section in chapter one:
On the history of touch screens, Samuel Hurst developed some nice touch technology. His initial work–like mine–was on touch tablets, not touch screen. Even so, he was not the first. Not by a long shot. The use of touch tablets precede their use with digital computers, and were used as controllers for electronic musical instruments in the 50’s and 60’s. I learned about them from one of the greatest electronic instrument designers ever, Hugh Le Caine.
Young, G. (1989). The Sackbutt Blues: Hugh Le Caine – Pioneer in Electronic Music. Ottawa: National Museum of Science and Technology.
Touch screens were developed in a few places in the second half of the 1960’s, most notably at IBM and Ottawa. Contrary to what you state, their first broader deployment was to support interaction on the PLATO computer based education system, based on technology developed at the University of Illinois, and deployed in 1972–that is, developed before Hurst built his first touch tablet, and deployed broadly before he ever built a touch screen.
Simon is one of the most important devices of the decade. It not only was the world’s first smartphone, it was the first phone to have a soft interface, and is a direct precursor to the iPhone. I have a working unit, as well as all of the documentation, and have interviewed the designers and engineers who built it. Contrary to the figure caption on page 10, the Simon did not fail because it “…was not able to show more than a few keyboard keys simultaneously.” That sounds a lot more like modern phones. The Simon displays a full QWERTY keyboard, with numbers, on the screen–all at once. And, by far exceeding the iPhone’s capability in one sense, it supported both touch and stylus, so enabled one to make better on-screen sketches, and manage them with a visual browser.
Yes, it failed in the market place, but not for the reasons that you give. The reason that I stress this is that it is our all-too-frequent lack of careful and critical analysis of product failures–especially really innovative ones–that results in the huge delay in the successful deployment of the great ideas that were manifest in those failed products. We need to take our discussion of the history of our discipline as–if not more–seriously than the design of the future. After all, 50% of design is based on building on the past. See:
If we consider that the iPhone can very much be considered a modern reimplementation of the design concepts first introduced in the mobile space by the Simon, I suspect that we would all agree that it deserves better treatment and consideration than it has gotten. A good question to ask is this: which product was the more visionary and innovative for its time? The Simon or the iPhone? Of course, the question is impossible to answer in any definitive way. Nevertheless, knowing our history enables us to pose such questions, types of questions that are asked far too infrequently. I believe we are considerably the worse off as a result.