We use a lot of technology today that is – to borrow a term from Steve Jobs – magical. Consider tablet computing, cars that respond to voice commands or even drive themselves. Calling an ipad2 or an Android Tablet or a Playbook magic is not a huge exaggeration in historical terms. An iPad2 would have been on a list of supercomputers rivalling a Cray as recent as 1996.
But we don’t get to this level of technology without experimentation and failures along the way. The important thing is to use those failures to lead to new insight and better products. Failure may be a result of many factors, including: flawed design, being ahead of its time, our tendency to stick to “good enough” solutions we are comfortable with rather than the possibility of something better, solutions in search of a problem, being too expensive, poor execution of a good idea, poor marketing, being user unfriendly, and simply not as good as other solutions to name a few.
Over the past 30 years, designer, writer, and researcher Bill Buxton has been collecting input and interactive devices whose design struck him as interesting, useful, or important. In the process, he has assembled a good collection of the history of pen computing, pointing devices, touch technologies, as well as an illustration of the nature of how new technologies emerge.
Part of the collection was first shown publicly at the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of the Massive Change Exhibition, curated by Bruce Mau, in 2004. Since then the collection has grown significantly, largely through the generous support of Microsoft Research.
The point of the site is not to focus on failures – it includes many successful products – but the history is interesting. Try the PivotViewer version – its a great way to navigate through the images.