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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RE[4]: Part 2
by Tony Swash on Sat 30th Jul 2011 15:28 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Part 2"
Tony Swash
Member since:

The first appearance of feathers in the fossil record is interesting. But what matters is when the first bird appeared.

You're trying to say that one day a bird just plopped out from nowhere?

It is hard to make analogies with tech and biological evolution simply because tech evolution is not governed natural selection; It is after all intelligent design and characteristics of a device can come from many different evolutionary trees . Also biological evolution happens extremely slowly and gradually.

Besides can you honestly claim that nobody was influenced by these devices. Just because they were not popular, it doesn't mean that they had no impact whatsoever.
Please. It would be ridiculous to suggest that a bird just popped out from nowhere - I am not a creationist!

What I am saying is that if you find a fossil of species that, say, has feathers and which then goes extinct it does not mean that it necessarily was an ancestor of the eventually emerging bird. The cluster of characteristics that we associate with 'birdness' can appear in earlier species with out those early species actually being related to the bird species that finally emerges. The reason for using this comparison of the development of technologies to the development of living species is to focus not on the design process per se but on the notion of evolutionary trees, of branches of direct development, of evolutionary dead ends and of what constitutes an ancestor or descendant technology.

so for example the computer system and GUI in this link

is interesting. But the question is does it have any relevance to piecing together the genealogy of later technologies and in particular the spread of GUI through out the personal computer world? I would say no it had no relevance because there is not the slightest evidence, that I am ware of that, it had any influence on any of the designs of subsequent generations of computers. It influenced no one, it left no direct descendants, it was an evolutionary dead end.

By comparison the Xerox Altos did directly influence the design of a subsequent and significant new generation (new species) of PC - the Macintosh. Not only did Apple licence Xerox technology but many of the key people from Xerox went to work at Apple and had a major role in the design of the Lisa and the Macintosh. As far as I know there are no other other direct descendant from the Xerox Altos other than the Mac. I have found no evidence that any other PC or OS design team visited Xerox or were so directly influenced by the Altos as was the Mac design team. The Mac was the new species that then precipitated the major branching event which led to the eventual dominance of the GUI in the desktop PC ecosystem, first through the mainstreaming of the GUI via a mass marketed desktop PC with a GUI then through the influence the Mac GIU had over the development of Windows the OS that went on to dominate the desktop ecosystem. Windows was an indirect ancestor of the Xerox Altos but a direct descendant of the Mac. If you read the various insider accounts of the early days at Microsoft building up to the release of Windows 3.1 you again and again come across the consciously expressed desire of Bill Gates to copy and build on what the Mac had done - not what the Xerox Altos had done (the best insider book I have read on this is 'Barbarians Led by Bill Gates' by Jennifer Edstrom and Marlin Eller).

I suppose what I am cautioning against is the use of forensic research of past, and often obscure, technology episodes, to find characteristics or clusters of characteristics, that later appear in truly significant branching events in technology development and then saying 'aha' the significant branching event was not that significant after all because such and such came earlier. If previous designs and innovations didn't actually influence anyone that came later then they become at best mildly interesting curiosities. They don't tell us much about the key events in the development of technology.

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RE[5]: Part 2
by earksiinni on Sat 30th Jul 2011 16:02 in reply to "RE[4]: Part 2"
earksiinni Member since:

There are many paths to establishing historical causality. You mention one in the case of Xerox and Apple, that there's a professional carry over between the employee rolls of the two companies, but it's impossible to rule out all sorts of other influences. For example, two separate but similar systems may have emerged from the same zeitgeist or cultural values, or even--as in the case with Newton and Leibniz and who invented calculus--from working on the same problems concurrently. That one appeared one, five, or even ten years after another doesn't necessarily imply that the latter followed from the former or conversely that they are totally unrelated. This is where the biological metaphor breaks down (or rather, where it becomes forced).

I'm assuming that Thom's working within certain limitations, i.e. that he doesn't have access to the designers' personal diaries, corporate records, and so on, which means de facto that he's limited to a formal analysis of the genealogy of styles. There's great value in this. Even if Thom had access to every single written and unwritten source ever created about the subject or somehow related to the subject and had the ability to comprehend all of it (not just diaries, but advertisements that inspired certain designs, scents that triggered emotional reactions in a CEO at crucial moments in a product's history that led her to approve the product, etc.), the fact is that the historian can bring connections to light that even the historical actors were unaware of.

Actually, when we write history, we try to honor the past, but we also end up participating in it and competing with it. Not only is it unavoidable, it's desirable. So I commend Thom on his efforts, and I look forward to reading the final product. I think that maybe some phone designers could learn something, as well.

On that note, Wirth's systems are germane here. Wirth and ETH Zurich are well-known for having been influential and very forward-looking (e.g., Oberon), but a bit like Knuth and TAOCP, it's hard to trace the full extent of the influence if you limit yourself to looking at who read/wrote what based on the original. Influence can be reproduced in many ways. It's especially difficult in industry, which has a vested interest in concealing influences.

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[6]: Part 2
by Tony Swash on Sat 30th Jul 2011 17:33 in reply to "RE[5]: Part 2"
Tony Swash Member since:

I guess what i am interested in is evidence of causality. Is there evidence that A influenced or led to B?

If there is no evidence then all that is possible is speculation - which is fun but which is trivial.

Reply Parent Score: 2