Thursday, May 24, 2018

Smartphones And Calculators Were Given Different Designs Because Of The Rotary Phone

Common sense isn't nearly as common as it sounds. Sometimes we just get stuck in ruts and do things the way we've always done them, whether that way makes much sense or not. And we get used to seeing things in familiar ways, not necessarily picking out what's relevant or rational.
A great example is something we all carry in our pockets: Our phones. Most of us have probably never noticed the big difference between the phone's keypad and the calculator's. But you won't be able to un-see it now!

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Have you ever noticed that the keypads for calculators and phones are different?

Which is weird, right? They use the same nine digits in a three-by-three pattern, but the only digit in the same place on both layouts is the 5.

Okay, so that's old tech, but even on the latest devices, the layout stays the same.

On the phone, the 1 is in the top left; on the calculator, the 1 is in the bottom left. Does this make any sense?

You would think it would be easy enough to just standardize the designs, right?

And yet they remain different. So what's going on?

Well, it's easy to forget that phones didn't always have keypads.

Once upon a time, phones had rotary dials...

It seems more than a little odd that, when phones made the switch from rotary to touch-tone, they didn't just port over the pre-existing layout from calculators.

This adding machine was the first to arrange the numbers three-by-three with the 1 in the lower left position. The bean counters and number crunchers who used them every day had no difficulty with them, and machines like this one were in offices everywhere by the late 1950s.

You can't say Bell Labs didn't do their research when they were developing keypads. They tried out many different variations of layouts to find out which worked best.

They weren't thinking about what already existed; they were thinking about how people would use their phones in the future.

Engineers discovered that people simply found having 1-2-3 in the top row easiest to use. 

But when it comes to the phone, the keypad has an additional use that the calculator doesn't: Punching in letters. And it just makes sense, reading-wise, to have the letters start at the top. But nobody would associate the progression of the alphabet with a series of digits starting at 8. As if texting before phones came with keyboards wasn't bad enough, right? 

Still, it makes you wonder why calculators didn't start with 1 in the top left in the first place.

Rumor has it the Bell engineers wondered that as well, and put the question to the big minds at the major calculator makers. None of them had a particularly good answer, however. They just went with the design that people were used to.

It's worth noting that new keypads for things like ATMs use the phone layout rather than the calculator.

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Author: verified_user