History of Human-Machine Interfaces. Part 3. The 80-90s. Personal Computers

The 1980s set the stage for critical technologies like voice recognition, touch screens, and widespread personal computers, revolutionizing human-machine interfaces.

History of Human-Machine Interfaces. Part 3. The 80-90s. Personal Computers

The 1980s laid the foundations for many of the technologies we use today. In addition to the development of voice technology, touch screens, and the mass proliferation of personal computers, this period was marked by several significant innovations in user interfaces.

New concepts for human-machine interaction

1. Compactness and mobility are as important as computing capabilities. Technical advances in microelectronics, processor miniaturization, efficient batteries, and other components have made it possible to compact computers and combine their computing capabilities with other functions - primarily telecommunications and multimedia data.

During this period, new portable devices were created: pagers, cell phones, communicators, laptops, the first e-books, MP3 players, and digital cameras. These devices allowed users to stay connected and work on the move. These devices changed how we communicate and work and empowered people to accomplish professional and personal tasks from anywhere in the world.

The social significance of the changes has also been enormous: People have been empowered to work and socialize, but at the same time, they have become more dependent on constant connectivity. Constant accessibility and engagement in communication have created new dynamics in work and personal life, blurring the boundaries between them and creating new challenges for time and attention management.

2. The computer as a tool for creative tasks. In the 1980s and 1990s, computers became a tool for utilitarian tasks and a powerful medium for creating and consuming content in art, design, music, and film. Technological advances in graphical interfaces, increased computing power, and specialized software development opened new horizons for creative professionals.

The advent of graphic design and digital music creation programs has allowed artists and musicians to create high-quality work directly on the computer. Video editors and modeling have revolutionized the editing of movies and videos, creating complex visual effects and animations.

3. The computer as a means of consuming content. In addition to creating content, computers have significantly changed how content is consumed. The advent of multimedia PCs has allowed users to watch movies, listen to music, and view photos on a single device. These technological advances have expanded opportunities for creative expression and made art and media more accessible to a wider audience, changing the landscape of entertainment and culture.

Interaction with computers has allowed users to act in different roles. Modern computers made it possible for a person to be both a creator and a consumer. The user could program a website, record songs, edit photos, and then switch to watching movies or listening to music, taking on different roles depending on his or her needs and mood.

New HCI technologies and devices

Pager. The first pagers appeared in the 1950s and were used in hospitals and emergency services. In the 1980s, they became popular in business and personal communications, becoming more compact and functional. Pagers had monochrome displays for text messages, notified users with beeps or vibrations, and allowed messages to be viewed with a few buttons to scroll, delete, or confirm. Most pagers could only receive messages.

A brochure for the Motorola Bravo Express, one of the most popular pagers of the 1990s

Cell phone. In 1983, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, the first commercially available portable cell phone, was released. The cell phone era began, allowing people to communicate on the move and outside traditional work or home spaces.

In 1994, IBM launched the IBM Simon, the first smartphone prototype that combined the functions of a cell phone, communicator, pager, fax, and e-mail device. In addition, Simon became one of the first commercially successful touchscreen phones. The device cost about 1000 dollars. Subsequently, these technologies continued to evolve and became the basis for modern text input methods on touch screens and virtual keyboards.

IBM Simon at the charging station

Communicator. In the 1990s, other wearable devices, such as communicators and personal digital assistants (PDAs), became popular, contributing to the concept of the mobile office. Such devices could already combine the functions of a cell phone and a device for accessing e-mail and could synchronize with a personal computer.

Palm PDA is one of the first mass-produced PDA devices. On the right is the stylus of the device

The stylus helped users interact more accurately and comfortably with touchscreens, especially when typing and controlling small interface elements. The technology was later used in miniature phones like Nokia and Samsung series devices. Today, some electronic pens in tablets and modern smartphones inherit this idea, allowing users to enter data and draw on the screen.

CD-ROM. The development and proliferation of CD-ROMs in the 1980s significantly impacted multimedia technology, providing a new way of storing and playing back audio, video, and text information, which influenced the development of interactive interfaces. This technology increased the amount of data available for processing and storage, which played a key role in developing programs such as Encarta and Adobe Photoshop, as well as the first computer games with rich graphics and sound, such as Myst and The 7th Guest. These games were among the first to exploit the full potential of CD-ROM, offering deeply immersive virtual worlds with high-quality visual and audio effects that were previously unavailable due to the limitations of earlier media. CD-ROMs also spurred the creation and distribution of multimedia training programs, allowing educational institutions and companies to offer more interactive and engaging training materials.

Laptops. Portable computers such as the IBM ThinkPad and Apple PowerBook made computing power available outside the office or cubicle.  With improvements in component and battery power efficiency and the advent of smaller hard disks and LCD screens, laptops became increasingly lighter and thinner. These innovations allowed users to perform complex tasks and stay connected while on the go, laying the groundwork for today's concepts of remote working and digital nomadism.

Apple PowerBook Brochure (1992)

E-book. E-book readers such as the Rocket eBook (1998) allowed users to carry entire libraries, making reading more convenient and accessible. These devices utilized new electronic ink (e-ink) technology that provided high contrast and low power consumption, making reading comfortable and long-lasting

Digital cameras. Mass-market digital cameras began to appear on the market in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of the first mass-market digital cameras was the Dycam Model 1, the Logitech Fotoman. Subsequently, many companies made their own versions of the digital camera. Apple even had its own - the QuickTake 100. Early models had a resolution of tenths and hundredths of a megapixel and could only store a few dozen images, but they did so instantly and without the need to develop film.

The first mass-produced digital camera, the Dycam Model 1 (1990)‌ ‌

Portable game consoles. Portable game consoles, such as the Nintendo Game Boy (1989) and Sega Game Gear (1990), revolutionized the world of video games by allowing you to play your favorite games anywhere, anytime. The devices were equipped with a screen, a built-in controller, and a rechargeable battery, allowing gamers to enjoy the game regardless of the presence of a television or power outlet. With its simple monochrome graphics and long battery life, the Game Boy gained popularity for its many games, including the famous Tetris. On the other hand, the Sega Game Gear offered a color screen and more powerful features, attracting the attention of game enthusiasts with its high-quality visuals and variety of gaming options.

The first virtual reality helmets. Although VR had not yet become a mainstream phenomenon in the 90s, this period was rich in research and development in the field. In 1991, Sega announced the Sega VR, one of the first attempts at a VR system for the consumer market. These same years also saw the first attempts at gesture interfaces. Oblong in 1992 offered a system that allowed virtual objects to be controlled using gestures.

Sega VR commercial from 1993

GPS navigator. The first GPS navigators were developed for military use in the 1960s. In the 1990s, civilian GPS units became compact and available to the general public, especially in automobiles. The devices had monochrome displays that showed real-time maps and coordinates, allowing users to enter addresses to plot a route. GPS navigators provided turn-by-turn directions, showing speed, direction, and time to arrival, greatly improving the road's convenience and safety.

Garmin GPS III (1997) GPS Navigation Packaging

New HCI software solutions

T9. As more and more input options became available, more engineers tried to make the input process more convenient and faster. In 1995, Tegic Communications introduced T9 (Text on 9 keys), a predictive text input technology for cell phones. T9 allowed faster text input on devices with a keyboard where each key corresponds to several letters (as on a traditional cell phone keyboard). T9 used a dictionary and algorithms to predict the word the user intended to type, making text input much easier and faster.

MacOS and Windows. One of the key achievements of the late 1970s was the creation of the graphical user interface (GUI), which revolutionized the way people interacted with computers. The Xerox Star, introduced in 1981, was the first commercial product with a GUI, offering an intuitive way to work through graphical images, windows, icons, and menus. Apple built on this initiative with the release of the Macintosh in 1984, which was the first mass-market PC with a GUI, making the technology accessible to a wide range of users.

Xerox 8010 Star Graphical Interface‌ ‌

The competition between Windows and Mac OS in the 1980s and 1990s played a key role in the evolution of user interfaces. In 1984, Apple released System 1, offering a revolutionary graphical interface with windows, icons, and a shopping cart. In 1985, Microsoft introduced Windows 1.0, the first graphical user interface on top of MS-DOS. In 1990, Microsoft released Windows 3.0 with improved interface, performance, and multimedia support, making it a serious competitor to Mac OS. Apple responded in 1991 with the release of System 7, which introduced color interfaces, support for virtual memory, and improved multitasking capabilities. The competition continued in 1995, when Microsoft introduced Windows 95, with the Start button, taskbar, and menu system that became the standard for subsequent versions.

Apple Human Interface Guildelines

In the late 1980s, Apple released its first Human Interface Guidelines, which had a profound impact on user interface design. These guidelines helped developers design intuitive, efficient, and visually appealing interfaces for software running on the Macintosh. The guidelines articulated key concepts such as consistency, direct manipulation of objects, user feedback, the visual metaphor of the desktop, and user control. These principles contributed to the unification of Macintosh application interfaces and significantly impacted interface design principles in general, shaping approaches still in use and evolving today. Similar guidelines were produced for Microsoft Windows and other systems such as IBM and Sun Microsystems. In the early 1990s, the idea also entered the Open Source community, creating unified interfaces in the Motif GUI for Unix.

Linux. In the 1980s and 1990s, Linux offered an alternative to commercial operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS with terminal and graphical solutions. Based on free software and open-source code, Linux gave users flexibility and control that proprietary systems did not have. In the 1990s, the first graphical environments for Linux appeared, such as the X Window System, KDE (1996) and GNOME (1997). These environments provided functionality comparable to commercial GUIs but with more customizability and without license restrictions. In addition, Linux was less demanding on resources, allowing it to run on more devices and to be used efficiently for the Internet and servers, making it attractive to developers and enthusiasts looking for an alternative to commercial operating systems.

Graphics programs for working with multimedia. Photoshop, released in 1988, allowed artists and designers to edit and process images on an unprecedented scale, ushering in an era of digital art. Pro Tools, introduced in 1991, radically changed the sound recording process by providing musicians and sound engineers with powerful tools for multitrack recording and digital audio editing. Such programs expanded the creative possibilities of professionals and became catalysts for entire industries, providing the technological foundation for modern media content creation and distribution methods.

One of the first versions of the Adobe Photoshop interface

WWW.  1989 Tim Berners-Lee proposed the World Wide Web (WWW) project, which in the early 1990s led to the first websites and browsers such as Mosaic and Netscape Navigator. By the late 1990s, this led to the massive spread of the Internet and the development of web interfaces, making information available to millions of users worldwide. Web interfaces became intuitive and functional, making navigating and interacting with Internet resources much easier. This project has transformed how we communicate, work, and receive information, profoundly impacting society and the economy.

The first WWW server based on the NeXT computer at the CERN Museum

HTML and browsers. HTML (HyperText Markup Language) was first developed by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991. The first web browser, WorldWideWeb, also created by Berners-Lee, appeared in 1991. In 1993, the Mosaic browser was released, the first graphical interface browser to facilitate the mass adoption of the Internet. Then, in 1994, Netscape Navigator was released, quickly becoming popular for its advanced features and ease of use. These technologies played a key role in forming and developing the World Wide Web, making the Internet accessible and convenient for many users.

Search engines. The launch of Altavista in 1995 and Google in 1998 radically changed the way people search for information on the Internet, making it more accessible and user-friendly. In many modern tools, part of the dialog system is analogous to the smart search bar. In addition, the first systems for digital communication are beginning to appear. For example, in 1996, the ICQ instant messaging program became available.

Continuous speech recognition programs began to gain traction in 1986/ when Carnegie Mellon University released Sphinx, a system capable of recognizing spontaneous speech using hidden Markov models, an advanced approach in natural language processing. In the early 1990s, Dragon Systems released Dragon Dictate, the world's first commercially available voice recognition system for the general public, which allowed users to dictate text to a computer but required pauses between words for more accurate recognition. In 1997, the same company released Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the first continuous speech recognition system that allowed users to speak naturally and without pauses. The product used sophisticated algorithms and machine learning technology to adapt the system's behavior to the user's voice and accent.


The history of human-machine interfaces in the 1980s and 90s demonstrates how technological innovations transformed how people interact with computers. These decades were packed with significant advances in graphical interfaces, mobile and compact devices, and creative tools that allowed users to be consumers and content creators. The development of technologies such as graphical user interfaces (GUIs), speech recognition systems, and the World Wide Web (WWW) have played a key role in shaping today's digital landscape.

The changes have created new dynamics in people's working and personal lives, making communication and access to information faster and more convenient. However, they have also created new challenges, such as dependence on constant communication and the need to manage time and attention.