90% of the worlds mobile phones use one company’s predictive text product.

Who are the people who designed the mobile phone text messaging system?* and more particularly what’s the story with this auto-predict business?**

The reason that I’m asking is the particular example of trying to write the word “pub”. On it’s first attempt at guessing what you mean it always comes back as “sub”. Who are these people who are wondering around conversing on the subject of submarines? Mariners I suppose, but surely there aren’t that many of them about that they need to take precedence over the use of the word “pub”. Do sailors not also use the word “pub”?

Okay the one concession that I’m willing to five is that there is more likely to be an emergency with a submarine than a public house and in an emergency speed is of the essence.

Of course it’s probably some to do with American teenagers they have more mobile phones than anybody else*** and they tend to eat a lot of submarine sandwiches**** and are more likely to go to coffee shops rather than pubs.

And while I could get into a discussion about the fact that while everything else that we call a shop in England becomes a store once you’re in America it’s interesting that “coffee shop” does not. But I think I should probably leave that thought for another day.

* Well actually who did invent the SMS (Short Messaging System)? It is a bit of a puzzler. Lets have a nice little bit of history shall we? Mobile phones all got started with the Handie-Talkie made by Motorola during the Second World War. Sadly you needed a truck to carry it around with you. Then, also for Motorola, Daniel E. Noble invented the Walkie-Talkie. This did have to be strapped to your back but it did mean that you could talk to people within the call area which could be as high as 32km. And after 1945 civilians could buy and operate them. Okay so this isn’t exactly a mobile phone yet. In the 60s and 70s Bell Labs and Motorola were competing to bring out the first mobile “phone” i.e something that would be able to connect to the existing telephone network. In the end Motorola got there first, the team leader Martin Cooper made the first cellular telephone call in 1983. Who was the first call to? He called his rival at Bell Labs to gloat. Apparently the conversation was remarkably civil. But what of SMS then? Well as far as I can tell it was a rather backwards invention. In Europe there was a problem developing, every single country in Europe had a different mobile phone standard. In the end the European Union decided to make a standard. This standard was readily agreed to by the companies involved as if they a workable standard they would be able to make the same phone and sell it all the way across Europe. It seems, although this isn’t clear, that SMS was actually included as something to be implemented in the new system even though it didn’t exist. It was then invented to order.

** 90% of the worlds mobile phones use one company’s predictive text product. It’s called T9 and is made by a company called Tegic. Tegic is now a wholly owned subsidiary of AOL. The reason for the near dominance of the market by Tegic is because of the amount of time it would take to develop their system. They spent 12 years developing their predictive text system and introduced it in 1995. Yes, that’s right they started building a predictive text system the same year as the first mobile phone was ever used, even though text messages didn’t exist yet. Then when text messages did arrive they had an unbelievable lead over every other competitor. But how on earth did they guess that text messages were going to happen? The answer is that they didn’t. The technology was in fact invented for a completely different purpose. The company were originally creating access products for people with disabilities. The product they were designing was as method of typing for people who couldn’t use a keyboard. They had developed a system that could distinguish in which of 8 directions a users eye was looking (top-left, top, top-right, left, right, bottom-left, bottom, bottom-right, and centre to indicate that you are thinking). They then used a predictive system to convert 8 different inputs into words. It took a simple modification to make the system take 9 inputs and the predictive text message was born.

*** They don’t actually have more phones per person. There really is very little reason to have more than one phone. Just a higher percentage of their population has mobile phones. My friend Carol does have more than one mobile phone, but she is neither a teenager or American so is therefore outside the scope of our study.

**** Submarine Sandwiches are like baguettes but the bread is usually baguette shaped but sliced white soft.

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