Friday, November 28, 2008

State of the Art - No Keyboard? And You Call This a BlackBerry?

A critical review of the BlackBerry Storm ...

"Research in Motion (R.I.M.), the company that brought us the BlackBerry, has been on a roll lately. For a couple of years now, it’s delivered a series of gorgeous, functional, supremely reliable smartphones that, to this day, outselleven the much-adored iPhone.

Here’s a great example of the intelligence that drives R.I.M.: The phones all have simple, memorable, logical names instead of incomprehensible model numbers. There’s the BlackBerry Pearl (with a translucent trackball). The BlackBerry Flip (with a folding design). The BlackBerry Bold (with a stunning design and faux-leather back).

Well, there’s a new one, just out ($200 after rebate, with two-year Verizon contract), officially called the BlackBerry Storm.

But I’ve got a better name for it: the BlackBerry Dud.

The first sign of trouble was the concept: a touch-screen BlackBerry. That’s right — in its zeal to cash in on some of that iPhone touch-screen mania, R.I.M. has created a BlackBerry without a physical keyboard.

Hello? Isn’t the thumb keyboard the defining feature of a BlackBerry? A BlackBerry without a keyboard is like an iPod without a scroll wheel. A Prius with terrible mileage. Cracker Jack without a prize inside.

R.I.M. hoped to soften the blow by endowing its touch screen with something extra: clickiness. The entire screen acts like a mouse button. Press hard enough, and it actually responds with a little plastic click.

As a result, the Storm offers two degrees of touchiness. You can tap the screen lightly, or you can press firmly to register the palpable click.

It’s not a bad idea. In fact, it ought to make the on-screen keyboard feel more like actual keys. In principle, you could design a brilliant operating system where the two kinds of taps do two different things. Tap lightly to type a letter — click fully to get a pop-up menu of accented characters (é, è, ë and so on). Tap lightly to open something, click fully to open a shortcut menu of options. And so on.

Unfortunately, R.I.M.’s execution is inconsistent and confusing.

Where to begin? Maybe with e-mail, the most important function of a BlackBerry. On the Storm, a light touch highlights the key but doesn’t type anything. It accomplishes nothing — a wasted software-design opportunity. Only by clicking fully do you produce a typed letter.

It’s too much work, like using a manual typewriter. (“I couldn’t send two e-mails on this thing,” said one disappointed veteran.)

It’s no help that the Storm shows you two different keyboards, depending on how you’re holding it (it has a tilt sensor like the iPhone’s)."    (Continued via NYTimes.com)    [Usability Resources]

No Keyboard - Usability, User Interface Design

No Keyboard

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