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03-8-2020 02:27:58  #1

Selectric vs. Wheelwriter Typing Speed

I was recently wondering about the maximum archivable typing-speed the respective mechanisms of the IBM Selectric and the later electronic Wheelwriter are able to keep-up with. I have read somewhere once that the maximum theoretical typing speed archivable on an IBM Selectric is well in excess of 200 WPM. That sems about right to me, the Selectric is an insanely fast machine. The Wheelwriter, from my experience, is quite significantly slower in printing text then the electric, and often needs to catch up when I type fast.
I would like to know if anyone has any idea just how much slower a Wheelwriter types compared to a Selectric.
Theoretically: Would the Daisy-wheel mechanism have been introduced first by IBM (instead of the Selectric), and would it have been incorporated in a electro-mechanical design similar to the Selectrics (instead of an Electronic one) would the speed difference still be that apparent? Would the Wheelwriter perhaps be able to match the Selectrics speed? And if not, just how much slower would have been? Would it even be noticeable?
Keep in mind, would a daisy wheel typewriter be electro-mechanical in design, the response time and shifting of the wheel would be instantiations. There would be no delay like we are used to from Wheelwriters or other electronic daisy wheel machines. As lower-case and numbers are located on one half, and upper-case and symbols on the other half of the wheel, if the shift key is pressed the wheel rotated by 180 degrees (like the ball is on a Selectric when shifted), the daisy-wheel would only ever have to complete a quarter rotation to select any one character.
The strengths of the daisy mechanism when compared to the Selectrics is its inherently much simpler and more rugged design (quality being equal). There are fewer moving parts and less adjustment needed for the typewriter o function correctly, as the daily wheel only moves around one axis. Such a machine would have had much longer service intervals and would require much less care in the long term compared to a Selectric (which are notoriously complicated and finnicky). I also dare to say that replacing a Daisy wheel is faster and simpler then replacing a golf-ball. Because of the simpler mechanism, such a typewriter would have been cheaper to manufacture, and could in turn be sold at a lower price, making it available to a much larger crowd. It seems to me that, would the Wheelwriter have come first, we might have gotten a much better machine because of it.
But please, proof me wrong. This is a discussion.

Learned watchmaker and office machine enthusiast from Germany.


18-10-2020 07:18:04  #2

Re: Selectric vs. Wheelwriter Typing Speed

I have my own ideas on this regard, but I have to inform that I am no expert or engineer thus I just happen to be a lay person with an amateurish interest (and knowledge) about some typewriters. So my opinions are mine alone and not supported by strong evidence.
As far as I know, the only quality typewriter left in production today are daisy machines made (supposedly) in Japan - there is a neat video on Youtube describing the last manifacturer (importer, technically) of typewriters in the USA as a sort of curious white elephant.  The internals of these machines  are conspicuous for their absence: the machine inside is almost empty, mechanical parts are few (thanks to the elegance of the rotating daisy concept) and all complexity is left to the electronic to solve. Electronics drive the paper movement, rotate the daisy wheel, stop it precisely, hit it at the right moment for the impression on paper, and move the printing head left or right.  All nice and easy with electronics but very complex if no electronic logic is available. A purely mechanical daisy typewriter would have a been a complex and expensive machine to manifacture and to maintain in 1961. On the contrary, the spool or ball  typewriter was purely mechanical: a Selectric could have been hand cranked without much of a redesign as all the complexity was 'solved' mechanically.  The Hammond , a vintage spool typewriter whose later Varityper iterations evolved into  fierce competitors of the IBM Selectric Composer on the proportional typeface market, was for decades a purely  hand-activated machine.  Selectrics appeared at the beginning of the 60s and took the market (then dominated by more or less traditional Underwood or Remington or European various electric standard machines)  by storm, selling millions of machines to everybody who could afford and wait for one. But no daisy machine (there were a number of patents but no machine on the market)  were built in any number until 15 years later.  The daisy is simpler, elegant, and cheaper in the end, but only if digital technology is available and plentiful. One could hardly overstate the impact of the Selectric on the market. Competitors were left to collect what IBM couldn't supply, such was the demand.  But in the end the more efficient daisy won the battle with everybody switching to daisy electronic machines - just before the whole market disappeared due to the advent of the ubiquitous page printers and client-server cheap universal machine, the 'PC' or the many equivalents, that use neither daisy or ball printers. From simple  portables  up to truck-size typesetting machines, all disappeared for the advance of the cheap and flexible digital model of today. Daisies won in the end - a Pyrrhic victory, as they can finally reign undisturbed on a market almost devoid of buyers.
The daisy cinematic is far superior to every other, as far as impact technologies are compared. But at the time the 'ball' appeared 60 years ago, the daisy would have been more complex and expensive. When finally digital electronics became cheap, and the daisy won the market,  in no time the large and very expensive page  machines of the early 80s became commodities, rendering the problem almost moot in a short while.


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