Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 28th Jul 2011 20:50 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless I've kind of painted myself in a corner with that headline, because I never anticipated I would need another preview article for this project. However, thanks to all your comments on both the site and through email, the scope of this project has grown considerably. As part of this growing scope, I'm acquiring more and more devices, and yesterday, I managed to score a phone which, while almost forgotten by most of the rest of the technology press, contained two very important firsts. Not only was this the first phone with a capacitive touch screen, it was also the first phone with an interface design from the ground-up for finger/touch input. Say hello to the LG KE850, better known as the LG Prada.
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Comment by Tony Swash
by Tony Swash on Fri 29th Jul 2011 10:16 UTC
Tony Swash
Member since:
2009-08-22

Sorry about the length of this comment but given the complexity of the issues under discussion brevity is hard. I have split the comment into tow sections to get around length restrictions but it should be read as one piece.

Thom I love the archaeology of devices you are proposing to do and look forward to what new information you dig up. My comments here are just meant as a constructive contribution.

How should one think about the relationship between different bits of technology, about how they relate about how they develop, about which came first and about their relative importance? It struck me that that another field of thought, that to do with how living things and species are related, provides a useful way to do this.

When scientists try to arrange species in some sort of order they often do so through the metaphor of a tree. All living things area related, you, and I, and a cow, and a soya bean all share some genes and at some very distant point in the past we shared a common ancestor. As times passes and species develop they branch into new species and branch again into yet more new species. This process of branching produces a model of the development and emergence of species over time that looks a lot like a tree and in placing an individual species on that tree it is important to get it on the right branch and in the right place before or after the other species on the same branch. Using this model it is also possible to see which were significant branching events leading to the development of a whole cluster of new species (branches) and which were less significant and led to few decendents.

This model also helps avoid errors caused by the superficial similarity of species which are actually distantly related and the even more confusing fact that similar ecological pressures and opportunities often leads to the development of very similar species which have not developed from one another (the marsupial wolf looked and behaved almost identically to the old world wolf but they both had different ancestors and simply evolved simultaneously on completely different branches of the evolutionary tree). When similar species do develop the tree metaphor also allows one to work out which species was more important in evolutionary terms, i.e. which species was the direct ancestor to the most subsequent new species.

One big advantage of using this tree metaphor in relation to technological developments is that it tries to sidestep the fierce brand loyalties and phobias that seem to arise in the discussion of technology and starts with the prime acceptance that all technology is related if you go back far enough. New technologies like living species do not magically pop into existence, they are all branching mutations building on prior species. What is also true is that ecological pressure and the particular stage of development of technology can cause similar technologies to simultaneously develop at the same time (i.e. new branches starting to grow at the same time side by side on the tree) and that some branches are more significant than others simply in that they lead to more new branches. Another useful metaphor we can use is that of adaption. Once one species mutates others are forced to do so (when the predators legs get longer so must the prey), this is not a question of copying or imitation but of tracing back a history of development to try to identify the key branching events, the ones that pushed the whole ecosystem forward into new changes.

Using this tree model you can see that the Mac GUI was a branching development from the Xerox GUI at Palo Alto. The Xerox GUI was the immediate ancestor of the Mac GUI but the Mac was a new species and therefore a new branch. It is also clear using this model that the desktop GUI's that came after the Mac, especially the overwhelmingly dominant one which was Windows, developed from the Mac branch and not directly from the Xerox branch. Microsoft was trying to copy the Mac and not the Altos, the Mac was Windows immediate ancestor although the Altos was a more distant ancestor (this is very clear if you read Microsoft insider account of the development of Windows such as the one by Marlin Eller). So both the Altos and Mac were both important branching events, and the Mac branching event could not have occurred without the Altos branching event, but no subsequent GUI developed directly from the Altos all developed via the Mac.

How does this apply to smart phone OS's?

Edited 2011-07-29 10:24 UTC

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