Pushbuttons replace dials on telephone (Apr, 1964)

Pushbuttons replace dials on telephone

Tests in regular service last winter at Carnegie and Greensburg, Pa., suburbs of Pittsburgh, have shown it’s easier and more than twice as fast to press buttons for a phone call than it is to twirl a dial. As each “touch-tone” button is pushed, it sounds a pleasing musical tone.

Bell is introducing the phone area by area, will nave it in general use within the next 10 years.

23 comments
  1. fluffy says: October 29, 20081:54 pm

    And of course, today’s cellphones and VoIP phones and the like just send the number directly to the switching logic. Any “pleasing musical tones” you hear are there solely to provide a hit of nostalgia.

    Personally I almost never dial by number anymore.

  2. fluffy says: October 29, 20082:03 pm

    Meaning, manually. I meant to say I dial by selecting from my contacts list and the like.

  3. jayessell says: October 29, 20082:29 pm

    When touch-tones were new, there was a book of children’s songs that you could play on the phone.
    It wasn’t the publisher’s fault if you accidently call Aubu Dabi.

  4. SwitchRecordedMessage says: October 29, 20084:30 pm

    With cellular, touch-tones, now called dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) are no longer used to originate calls. But they are still necessary for menus like Press 1 for English .

  5. fluffy says: October 29, 20084:36 pm

    Good point, although most cellphones (at least, among the ones I’ve used) don’t even play the DTMF to the user, they just display the number on the screen.

  6. SwitchRecordedMessage says: October 29, 20088:39 pm

    Some Motorola phones like the RAZR have a menu setting for DTMF long or short

  7. Torgo says: October 29, 20089:15 pm

    One of their predictions that actually came true.

    I miss rotary dial phones.

  8. John M. Hanna says: October 29, 20089:17 pm

    I recognize the push buttons on the telephone device, but what is that strange, cordlike thing connecting the receiver the the main housing?

  9. mc says: October 29, 200811:52 pm

    It took a lot less than 10 years for the technology to become widely used. Practically all of Georgia got it in 2 or 3 years after the date of this news story. I know we had it in Valdosta, Georgia, in mid-1966 if not earlier.

  10. Casandro says: October 30, 20083:19 am

    Wow, I only used touch tones for a year or so. We nearly directly switched from impulse dialing to ISDN.

    I mean pulse or tone dialing is just so expensive on the side of the switch and it takes ages. I can dial any number in the world in split seconds

  11. g663 says: October 30, 200810:11 am

    @ 25 years in the telephone switching systems industry speaking here.

    The touchtone sounds you hear on cellphones and VOIP phones are NOT there for nostalgia. They are retained primarily to provide user feedback, which helps minimize wrong numbers and provides enhanced accessibility for blind users. I’ve actually seen some comments on computer/VOIP forums suggesting to do away with the tones entirely: an example of why some of us long-time telephone systems engineers think most people in the computer industry are frankly idiots who don’t know jack squat about how to make a decent user interface for a telephone (much less a receiver that fits the human ear!).

    See also Cisco VOIP phones for offices, where the hapless user must “navigate” through menus to find a Hold button or a Transfer button. Downright stupid. We were doing better than that in the 1930s with the 1-A key system, predecessor to the 1-A-2 key system that lasted into the late 1980s and is still in use in niche applications.

    As for the “strange cordlike thing” connecting the handset to the base, and another from the base to the wall, on that early 1500-series touchtone set: That’s to prevent the phone going dead during AC power blackouts, as happens to cordless phones. When there’s a blackout at my house, I can still call for help in an emergency; too bad you can’t on your cordless phone. Have a Darwin Award….

    Cellphones and poorly-implemented VOIP produce arguements between people. The latency and compression mask the subtle emotional cues in the voice, such that people attribute rudeness and “not-listening” to each other and become frustrated. The longer the conversation lasts, the greater the likelihood of the frustration building up to the point where it leads to an angry arguement. I have 1930s dial phones that sound better than that, and don’t lead to arguements.

    I don’t have a cellphone. I don’t need crappy sound quality in a whizzy new package, and I already get all my surveillance for my tax dollars, so why pay extra for more?

    Last but not least: rotary-dialing a local number takes about 7.5 seconds, pressing touchtone buttons takes about 2.5 seconds. You just saved five seconds, only to spend another 60 – 120 seconds dealing with layers of poorly-executed voicemail menus, now made even worse by voice recognition, and made even more annoying by chirpy attempts to make machines sound “conversational.” A dial phone at your end, and a live receptionist at the other end, are faster to get you through to the person you want to speak with; and you can actually hear each other clearly. Wonders never cease!

  12. fluffy says: October 30, 200810:40 am

    Wow, curmudgeon much?

  13. Toronto says: October 30, 20083:44 pm

    That’s why phones should include a wet cell battery and a magneto to send a ring impulse to the switchboard girl. “Voice dialing” at its best.

  14. Jerry says: October 30, 20085:03 pm

    I’m with g663 the Curmudgeon on this one: modern phones suck. Cordless and cellular phones frequently drop signal and lose the call, the sound quality is flat and tinny, and they’re prone to interference. Phone service was a million times better in the old Ma Bell days, and for a very unfashionable reason: there was a massive industrial organization dedicated to providing universal accessibility to a single basic service. G663 is also dead-on right on two other issues: the old phone company had decades of in-depth knowledge in the technology of voice transmission that is largely ignored by VoIP applications; and touch-tone-controlled voice mail systems are the work of the devil.

    Progress is never a uniform improvement. Some things improve and others don’t. I like having my cell phone with me all the time, but all the same, I keep an old-fashioned rotary landline phone available for power outages and emergencies.

  15. Richard C says: October 30, 20085:55 pm

    They took longer than that predicted 10 years to become universal. In 1980, my college roommate got a touch tone phone that he wanted to use to replace the old rotary dial phone in our dorm room. We hooked it up, but found that it could only be used to receive calls. The campus phone system couldn’t handle touch tone dialing. The phone made tones, but the switch didn’t recognize them.

    As recently as 1991, I remember signing up for phone service in a new (to me) apartment and being asked by the phone company if I wanted touch tone service. They charged a dollar or two extra per month for the privilege of using tone dialing. I’m pretty sure that by that time, it actually cost them more money to support the old dial phones than the modern tone ones, but since their tarrifs allowed them to charge extra for tone service, they charged extra.

  16. Sean says: October 30, 200810:50 pm

    Go Greensburg, my town! Ironically, I just gave up my rotary dial last year. It was mostly for the enjoyment of watching other people struggle to use it.

  17. Githyanki says: November 1, 20089:29 am

    My mom had just finished re-modeling her antique 1903 house, and had only rotary phones. I had to call in to work to respond to a trouble ticket. Sure enough, if I didn’t press a button, it eventually went to a live “operator”. Trouble is, the operator didn’t even know that it was his job, or how to connect me to someone that could help me.

  18. Harry says: November 1, 20084:14 pm

    Ah, yes, buttons on the telephone; the very point at which my mother was left behind by technologhy.

  19. Neil Russell says: November 1, 20085:17 pm

    I’m still using a Western Electric 302, it’s been in the family since the 50′s.
    To mc @ post #9, apparently Valdosta was much further ahead than we were here in Statesboro, I got a red dial phone from TPC in 1979. Even though touch tone service was available here, it seems like it was an extra cost option.
    But then we also still had party lines!!
    I’m surprised someone hasn’t written a dial applet for the iPhone, wouldn’t that be something to see someone doing on a phone like that.

  20. hwertz says: November 2, 20081:28 pm

    Yeah, I know at least in mid-1990s or so, 2600 and a few similar places set up the fax machines to use pulse dialing, the phone company in New York was *still* charging extra for touchtone, and they decided “the heck with it, we’ll save the money”.

    Cell phone etc.: I agree, a lot of these companies have NO sense. They think menus are great and forget the *common* options shouldn’t be buried in menus. Apparently with BMW iDrive you even have to go into menus for the volume! Argh! As for cell phones themselves, you’re being a crumudgeon. The likes of AT&T drop calls constantly and have poor call quality, but a good cell company doesn’t drop calls, and has good voice quality. I mean, there’ll BE areas of poor service or quality, but it’s not fair to compare that to a phone where you have to be within a few feet of the wall in your house. Personally I have good quality everywhere in town except one or two steel-reinforced concrete buildings and subbasements I’ve been to.. where I would not have had service from my landline either, seeing as how I’d be several miles away from it and all. I’ve also had good service while travelling, again you can’t compare that to the landline, you’d have no service. Payphones aren’t a viable option any more, I see fewer every time I travel!

  21. fluffy says: November 2, 20081:39 pm

    I don’t mind numeric menus, as long as the common options are at the top of the tree, and as long as you can easily get to a CSR (and hopefully have CSRs who don’t treat you like an infant, but that’s a whole other rant).

    I can’t stand spoken-word voice-prompt menus. They never seem to have the exact phrase that’s right, they’re EXTREMELY sensitive to background noise (my worst experience with one was when a flight was canceled, while I was at the airport, and of course because of the background noise I couldn’t get through to a CSR so I could get my flight changed!), and of course if I’m just calling to check a balance or start an automatic payment it’s ridiculous that I should have to speak out loud to nothingness. What’s really ridiculous is when a credit-card payment requires you to say the numbers out loud!

    And one of the more common voice-prompt systems requires you to prefix all number entries with “the number.” So, if you’re asking about tracking number 24589, you have to say “the number 2, the number 4, the number 5, the number 8, the number 9.” Very very retarded and broken.

    Of course, just having a CSR immediately pick up isn’t really any better. It drives costs up (at least in the case that most calls don’t end up needing a CSR), and in the case of multi-level support, having an automated tree makes it possible to actually have your call transferred to the right division first rather than having to go through a whole bunch of agents. It also helps when the automated system allows you to enter your customer information so that the CSRs don’t have to prompt you for it again and again.

  22. George says: November 4, 200810:49 pm

    4-1-1
    phone: what city and state?
    me: Washington, DC
    phone: OK! Is this a person or a business you want to call in Flushing Beach?
    me: No. That’s wrong. Washington, DC!
    phone: Great got it! The telephone number for Noah Wong Washing Machine Company is 999-555-4444. Press 1 to be connected for a nominal courtesy charge of $3.95 plus only $1.95 per minute.
    me: Never mind I’ll send them a card.
    phone: Ok! What is your credit card number?

  23. Tim says: March 21, 20109:04 pm

    I prefer pulse dialling. It allows me to think about what I want to say to the person I’m calling, while the pulses go through during dialling. With tone dialling, although it is quicker, it is fine in a business environment. But when making calls from home using tone dialling, I always think I’m getting through too quickly without having time to think.

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