Why Losing The Trackpad is Bad for BlackBerry


Goodbye Trackpad

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

Alcatel Venture

When I think of a Berry without a trackpad, I think of the Alcatel Venture aka the Virgin Mobile Venture.

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.

 

Novelty

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.

Grackpad Glow

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.

 

Final Thoughts

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?

Trackpad Focused

Set Sar

Set is a writer, blogger, and analyst. His duties include site administration, graphic design, reporting, and publishing articles. His passions include technology, science, cars, and learning.

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  • Bringbackthepad

    I have owned and used iPhones and Samsung Galaxies. I have never owned a Blackberry before. I had used someone elses though, once or twice and loved the touchpad. To the extent that I wanted it in my phone, but I needed android apps on my phone. So, I ended up buying a low-end Samsung Galaxy Pro with a physical keyboard and a trackpad! The only Android phone that has both.

    I liked this Samsung Galaxy Pro, but in the end it was cheap and had no style.

    Every now and then I found myself still looking at BB Bold and wanting it, but couldnt, it didnt have the apps.

    When I first heard about Blackberry 10 OS and that it will support Android apps, I was so happy, cause my phone dilema was finally solved. I could get a BB and still use Android apps, even though it meant I would have to wait for the launch and all. I was happy!

    And, then I saw Z10 & Q10. It broke my heart! No keyboard, no trackpad. You almost had a convert BB. You lost me by losing the pad.

    • http://techshift.net/ Set

      The new Bold 9900 is still a sharp looking device with lots of positive style but like all technology, it will fade into obsoleteness. The trend of the touch device is not going away and BB has to keep up with the times. In a way, I feel like the trackpad is like Lenovos Trackpoint. Its old technology, but it works. Even though both hardware works and works very well, new consumers look at it as archaic and get turned off.

      Id like to make a small note about BB 10 and Android. The Android player on BB 10 is like an emulator or compatibility layer. Android apps will run a tad slower and it will break the overall theme of the BB 10 environment. BB want to promote built for BB apps rather than ports because (IMO) the Android player hurts BB in the long run.

      Having said that, Im very excited to see how bb 10, the Z10 and the Q10 turn out. People here in the States have to wait until the end of Feb >:O

  • Harry

    Thx Set,

    Another vote for trackpad.

    Without a trackpad, Ill keep my Torch and Playbook.

    BTW the Playbook keyboard has a trackpad so QNX has the drivers.

    Thank you

  • grumpybear.wordpress.com

    Excellent post. One of the main reasons why the BlackBerry is brutally efficient at what it does is because of the optical trackpad. Its simply much quick to breeze through menus and lists by using an on-screen cursor which is visible all the time instead of jabbing at the screen like an idiot and hoping you hit the right spot because your finger obscures the display.

    Ive tried optical pads on Android phones and they suck. The Samsung Galaxy Y Pro has one and its not kinetic and not fully integrated so you end up having to use both touchscreen and pad. And I hate the way the proper call buttons are disappearing from handsets, swiping to take a call is just plain stupid when a simple hardware button can do the job much quicker abnd reliably with less fuss.

    Then theres the question of ergnomics. A trackpad is more comfortable, less tiring and doesnt need fingers like ET to navigate to the top left corner of the screen. You can use it left and right handed and crucially, it allows you to use a phone one-handed.

    I love BlackBerrys and am disappointed that the-company-formally-known-as-RIM has decided to jump on the God awful touchscreen bandwagon and remove everything from BlackBerry that makes it great; optical trackpad, proper hardware buttons, convenience keys, back button, hell even the old OS 7 with icons and folders is much better than the OS10 rubbish with its heavy focus on pointless gestures and an interface that about as usable a 1970s ICI mainframe.

    Im sticking with my Bold 9900 until it dies. And then Im buying another. Until a proper OS10 mobile is available with trackpads, keyboard and proper call buttons, the new range of BlackBerrys can sod off!

    • http://techshift.net/ Set

      I share your frustrations about the dedicated call buttons, menu, and disappearance of the convenience keys. You make a good point about android trackpads. Ive experienced a few Android devices with trackpads and youre right. The OS itself is not designed for the trackpad and having it all the way at the bottom of the phone(usually) is stupid and takes the point away.

      I will however reserve final judgment until I try it out next week. I am looking to see if the Q10 will be a worthy replacement for my 9900. That will come out a month after the z10.

    • Jackster

      100% spot-on analysis. Ive had the Q10 (Verizon) for 5 days now. Frustration builds deeper with every interaction. My gut tells me that its going back before the 14-day trial period. The screen brightness is the other primary issue which you didnt call out.

  • Adityan

    The optical trackpad is a must for Blackberry 10 phones. It would have made the difference between also rans and being unique.
    The designers have removed the one reason why a business user would have opted for a BB, instead of an iPhone, which does exceedingly well in the all touch space.
    Blackberry would do well to keep the QWERTY keypad, and the optical trackpad as their USP, in this world of all touch phones.

    • http://techshift.net/ Set

      Thanks for the comment. The trackpad is a key feature in bb7 so you think they would put it in bb10. Their reasoning is that bb10 is a completely new OS based on touch gestures rendering it obsolete. We a reviewing bb10 at the moment so well give a full review on it soon.

  • Carrot-then-Stick

    Totally agree with this. Blackberry has had me as a loyal user for years but I simply will not buy either of their devices with no track pad. This is a serious problem and in my opinion a stupid business decision. Unfortunately for RIM, the power users are their core users. So, while they may not have the widest appeal, they do (or did) have fierce loyalty. My loyalty is about to go down the toilet unless they address this issue. Ive been waiting patiently for them to address the shortcomings of the 9900 (Lack of flash support and Android app support) and a mediocre processor only to have them fix the processor and flash/Android support but eliminate a key precision navigation tool. UGHHHH!!!!

    • http://techshift.net/ Set

      I recently bought and reviewed the Q10 and while I love the phone, I still agree with your sentiments that the trackpad is a precision navigation tool. Copying and selecting text is more difficult on the touch screen. With the trackpad, it was so much easier to just hold ALT and use the trackpad to highlight the text. There was a clear tradeoff when designing BB10 and I believe removing the trackpad was necessary in order to implement the gestures. A trackpad would get in the way.

  • M-Anubis Joe

    i
    agree with the millions of other blackberry users we want our trackpad
    or trackball back,its about what we want not what u want.