BlackBerry 10 devices are on the horizon and while we look forward to shiny new phones with new features, many are disappointed with the removal of the optical trackpad. The main pointing device on BlackBerry has gone through many key changes. From the scroll wheel, to the trackball, and now the trackpad, RIM has decided to ditch them in favor of full touchscreen navigation. This transition seems inevitable but is it really progress? Lets break down this decision and answer this question ourselves.
Why Remove It?
The trackpad has been the standard pointing device from the 8500 series to the current 99XX. Since then, weve seen our BlackBerry phones transition from non-touchscreen to full on touch. Maybe RIM feels that full touch inputs can replace the usefulness of having an optical trackpad. Another reason RIM might have to ditch the trackpad is freeing up space. The trackpad, along with the call, menu, back, and end buttons take up real estate and removing them frees up space for a larger screen. Many people associate the trackpad with BlackBerry as all current models have them. Perhaps people see this as old and inferior hardware and RIM may be looking to break that image. In this case, I am reminded of the old phrase, if it aint broke, dont fix it.
If It Aint Broke
Removing the trackpad from a tradition(Bold, Curve) BlackBerry is like using your desktop with a keyboard and without a mouse. A mouse/trackpad makes it easy to perform simple tasks. Tasks like copy and paste or clicking on a link can be done without the clumsiness or frustration of a touch screen. Dont believe me? Try it. Sure you may occasionally click on the right link but you will run into misclicks the more often you try. In order to reduce errors, a pinch+zoom technique is required. Another thing people dont often consider useful about the trackpad is the ability to highlight before making a selection. Think about how a full-touch UI handles this issue. Button and lists are enlarged to reduce misdials. While it is possible to highlight selections with a full touch device, its easier with a trackpad. Having the call, menu, back and end buttons omitted is another issue. I can understand that they want to eliminate buttons altogether but these buttons are often used. BB10 better have a smart and fast way to handle or replace these core buttons or else they will lose many faithfuls.
The trackpad has a special novelty to it that I will personally miss. I love how it lights up revealing its borders as I am using it in the dark. I also love that its the last light to go out as the rest of the screen and keyboards backlight dims before it. I know its quirky and strange to say but the trackpad gives my BlackBerry Bold character. Thats something I would argue is missing from the sea of slate iPhones and Droids that all look the same.
What Do We Gain?
Beside a half an inch of extra screen real-estate, I really dont see a benefit in removing the trackpad. Not only does it give users an accurate pointing device, but it also doubles as a tactile selection button. Hovering over a link and clicking the trackpad assures me that Ive performed that operation with success. Ive used full touchscreen devices where not only do I mistap, but Ive also accidentally double tap because the phone would temporarily freeze up and I think the tap didnt register. This problem can be reduced by having a faster phone but the tactile feedback cannot be replicated by a full touch screen. Many virtual keyboards vibrate on keypress or make an audible click to simulate this tactile feedback but this in turn creates a new problem which is excessive battery drain.
Another thing people dont consider about using a full touch device is how often we shoot blind. Think about it. You usually tap the touchscreen with your big ol thumb and for a split second, your thumb is over the screen and you dont see what you are tapping. With a trackpad, you see a cursor as it moves across the screen so your big thumb does not block the screen and you can hove/click. Not to mention all the ads you avoid mis-tapping when you use a trackpad. I cant tell you how many ads I mistap on my tablet when all I wanted to do was scroll. Sometimes, using a touchscreen feels like navigating a minefield. Its so frustrating. So what do we really gain? Half an inch of screen real-estate and more touchscreen problems.
I know the decision has already been made and theres nothing we can do about it but that doesnt change my opinion that its a bad one. В It saddens me that in order for a company like RIM to sell a good device, they have to dumb it down to cater to all the hipsters with iDevices and Droids. I look at this like a slippery slope. First, they removed the second convenience key for no clear reason. Then, theyre removing the trackpad and all their button. Whats next? No hardware keyboard on a flagship device? So this has been my short rant. What do you think? Will you miss the trackpad? Is this a smart move?