Last year, an online video showed a 1-year-old girl touching a magazine as if it were an iPad. She swiped it with her fingers to turn the pages and did a pinching motion to enlarge the images, but to no avail.
Aside from being cute and amusing, the clip underscored the evolution of touch — how we interact with technology. Whether it’s the electric typewriter, the computer mouse or a motion-sensing gaming system, the ever-changing ways in which we control our devices can greatly affect how we work, play and do everything in between.
Here’s a sample of some notable innovations during the past half-century.
Zenith Flash-Matic remote
IBM Selectric typewriter
Many will be too young to remember typing classes in school, but the Selectric changed the game with its typeball and carriage mechanism. Users could type faster and with fewer errors because the ball eliminated jams when fingers struck more than one key.
The Selectric electric typewriter also provided both a tactile and auditory experience, one that some users miss in today’s quiet and mushy keyboards. More than a decade later, a new model featured an internal-correction feature that lessened the need for white-out fluid.
During an historic demonstration at San Francisco’s Brooks Hall, inventor Douglas Engelbart showed off the computer mouse. The device would later gain mainstream popularity with the debut of Apple’s Macintosh computer in 1984.
The mouse went on to evolve in design and features, adding buttons and a scroll wheel, while dropping the trackball — and in some models, the tail. Some have gone high tech.
Like the controller for Nintendo’s Wii game system, the Logitech MX Air has motion-sensing technology, including a gyroscope and an accelerometer.
The Plato IV
The Plato IV welcomed students at the University of Illinois into the world of computing. Made by Control Data Corp, it featured a display with a 16-by-16 grid infrared touch panel that let students answer questions quickly by touching the screen.
The device also helped establish key online concepts: forums, message boards, online testing, e-mail, chat rooms, picture languages, instant messaging, remote screen sharing and multi-player games.
Simon Personal Communicator phone
It looked and worked like a smartphone, yet that name wouldn’t be coined for several more years. Rather than loading up pockets and purses with a half-dozen different devices, Simon, a collaboration between IBM and BellSouth, offered e-mail, calling, paging, calendar functions and a pen-based sketchpad, all surrounded by a monochrome touchscreen.
Novint Falcon 3D touch controller
Haptics have brought virtual feedback to everything from automobiles and phones to game rumble pads and flight simulators. The Falcon is one of the first devices to offer 3D feedback. The weight and dynamics of objects can be simulated so that an object’s inertia and momentum can be felt throughout a person’s body.
Users feel the impact of a virtual bullet hit, the recoil of a gun or the motion of a golf club.
Long before the iPhone came along, Samsung, LG and Palm were using touch-screen technology in their devices. Still, it was the iPhone, with its stylish interface, that would up-end the mobile market.
In the evolution of touch, the iPhone would popularize gestures such as finger-swiping and pinching used on the touch screen.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could control all our technology without touching it at all? We’re not there yet, but the Mindflex offers an early glimpse of mind control’s capabilities. The toy comes with a headset that uses the player’s brainwaves to help move a ball through an obstacle course.
The mind itself isn’t actually moving the ball — instead, a fan built into the device is triggered by the player’s brainwaves. Concentration makes the fan blow stronger, lifting the ball higher, while a relaxed mind does the opposite.
The device uses 3D motion capture, voice input and facial recognition. The technology isn’t just about fun and games, though.
In 2011, the company released a software development kit that allowed researchers in Seattle to explore how Kinect can give surgeons a virtual sense of touch during remote surgical procedures.
Based on 40 years of research funded by Darpa, Siri’s natural language technology was snapped up by Apple in 2010 for use in iOS products.
Is this the future of interaction with all technology?
We don’t know. Ask Siri.