A Classical Argument for the Classic

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The Long awaited BlackBerry Classic release will be this week December 17th in New York City!

So a bit of discussion about this device is in order. Will it be welcomed and successful, as seems to be the case based on sold out pre-orders? Or will it be the failure that so many predict and even appear to wish for?

This device, like the PassPort, has certainly been controversial , bringing with it a mix of reactions ranging from welcome relief and celebration that a useful feature has returned, to fear and horror of BlackBerry committing suicide by going “back to the past”, or of bastardizing BB10 to accommodate an older navigation method.

BB10 after all, has been thoughtfully designed for gesture navigation by touchscreen only, without the use of a toolbelt or any physical hardware assistance, such as the trackpad or any of the other toolbelt keys. It is considered to be a MODERN graphical user interface designed for touchscreens. When iPhone began this trend nearly seven years ago, it was considered unique and innovative. Doing everything on glass! Amazing! and it was. For it’s time. 2007. The novelty made the BlackBerry toolbelt appear antiquated and obsolete. However, now that the novelty has worn off and touchscreen navigation innovation has run it’s course, it is time to revisit smartphone design philosophy.

Some of those who appear to wish the Classic’s failure have focused not on it’s strong points, but rather on petty issues such as the trackpad not being illuminated, even though many legacy devices, such as the Torch, did not have this feature either. There is even a developer who claims the toolbelt won’t be useful and a distraction. Of course this children’s game developer does not offer much in the business professional department, and so of course doesn’t find the trackpad useful. This developer also apparently lives in his own little world and doesn’t think that anyone makes phone calls, making statements like “next to nobody makes phone calls these days, this key is even more useless.” when referring to the phone convenience keys.

So BlackBerry has two camps of fear to please. Those who supposedly “fear change”, and therefore require a toolbelt, and those who “fear change”, and therefore fear going back to the toolbelt. It can be argued that all fear is based on fear of change.

The good news is that the two latest devices answer both of these camps. The PassPort with no toolbelt and now the Classic with the toolbelt. And so, there is nothing to fear! What a perfect answer.

FEAR OF THE PAST

This camp includes those fearful that they might lose this modern way of all touch navigation, that BlackBerry might revert and lose it’s gain on what they perceive to be the “new way”. They are afraid that BB10 will be bastardized to accommodate tool belt navigation. They fear that they will be forced to return to the previous ways of navigation.
Let me assure you that this is not the case.

First, just because, and even if, the toolbelt is on the device, does not mean that one MUST use it for navigation. All of the beloved full touch based gesture navigation is still an option on the Classic. There is after all, a touchscreen on the Classic. Agreed, there is no capacitive keyboard such as on the PassPort, but I don’t see that to be a competing device. It is less of a device designed for mobility than is the Classic, based on size and one handed usage capability.

Secondly, nothing will change about BB10 to accommodate this toolbelt, because pointing device navigation is already built in to the OS, as proven by the usage of a bluetooth mouse to do the exact same things the trackpad would. The trackpad is simply an alternate type of pointing device. The menu button will act as a shortcut, not a replacement for opening menus. The “back” button will supplement the already built in softkeys, not replace them. The start and end call buttons will merely be shortcuts to the phone app. Nothing to fear!

FEAR OF THE FUTURE

This camp includes those who are supposedly afraid of or resistant to change. The closed minded. Those who are unable to learn a new way of doing things.

I don’t know any of these people. I have not heard from them. They are a mythological creature created by those who can’t figure out why anyone would want a toolbelt when there is a supposedly a newer and better way to do things. Being in the pro toolbelt camp, I can tell you that this creature does not exist. I have tried both, I have used a Z30 as my device for well over six months, yet I have found the toolbelt to still be a preferable convenience for my usage pattern. I emphasize for my usage pattern.

I am of the mind that just because something is newer and more commonly accepted, does not necessarily make it better, at least for some usage patterns. Perhaps more popular, but not necessarily better for some usage patterns. Clearly BB10 is a huge improvement over BBOS, and that is why I upgraded. Yet, I did it begrudgingly and I was very disappointed that BB10 with toolbelt was not an option at the time.

SO, WHY BRING THE TOOLBELT BACK?

The simplest answer as stated by John Chen, is simply demand. Yes, back by popular demand.

Mr. Chen has talked to many business professionals who simply love and prefer the simplicity and convenience of one thumb, one hand tool belt navigation. Fast accurate communication is their primary use. Clearly there has been some market research or this would only have happened under the watch of a madman. John Chen is no madman, nor was his predecessor Thorsten Heins.

In their roadmap for this device, BlackBerry referred to it as “Powerful yet uncomplicated.. an expression of no frills, no nonsense simplicity. I need a tool not a toy”

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I do not believe that the reason for bringing it back was merely for nostalgia. Not a big market. Nor do I believe it is a concession that BB10 devices without the toolbelt are considered a failure because of it’s omission. A large usage group do not require it, nor do they welcome it. That is why BlackBerry offers a range of devices with a choice.

Many have said the Classic is designed to lure those who “cling to their BBOS devices and fear change” into BlackBerry 10. Maybe there is some of that. This is the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” crowd that Chen speaks to in his open letter on the BlackBerry Classic. But that is not the only target market.

CHANGE IS NOT ALWAYS FOR THE BETTER

As a mobile professional, I can testify that the users such as myself who are celebrating the return of the toolbelt, are not in the camp of “resistance to change” but rather “loss of convenience” and enhanced productivity.

Here’s why. A mobile professional is one who travels daily, hourly even, from location to location. Various modes of transportation may be involved, train, plane, taxi, bus…. always carrying baggage, running through terminals, but must simultaneously stay in contact, through text, email and phone calls with associates and clients. This leaves one hand available and little time in between location changes. In this situation, juggling and adjusting the phone while swiping with one hand can be a dangerous operation, risking dropping the phone. The primary and sometimes exclusive application of the device to this type of user is communication.

HOW DOES THE TOOLBELT HELP?

With eyes focused on destinations, foot traffic, obstacles, hazards while in motion… it is not convenient, even dangerous, to have to look at and focus on your device. It requires refocusing your eyes, for many, even a change of eyewear. Meanwhile, you aren’t watching where you are going. Safety issue.

Therefore, looking at the device should be minimized, and the toolbelt does it by providing you with a raised surface to feel, without risk of actuating anything accidentally until you are ready, when you complete the action by applying more pressure. You can apply a certain amount of pressure to any key prior to the tactile “click ” that tells you the actuation has occurred without looking.

TACTILE FEEDBACK

Applying this pressure offers another advantage while in transit. It helps you to have a more sure grip on the phone. all the while prepared for your next move while hovering over the key you will next press (dial phone, end call, trackpad click to activate a menu item or action, ). You can time when the actuation occurs and be prepared in advance by hovering over the trackpad with your thumb ready for the perfect moment (taking a photograph, starting a stop watch or timer without looking at the display). The perfect moment to hang up or answer the phone, the perfect moment to send the text or email, always intentional, never by accident. By feel only, you know when and if you performed your action, once and only once without looking.

This is impossible on a touchscreen only device. You can’t “hover” without activating something, unless you literally “hover” by having your finger raised over the glass. This means you aren’t gripping the phone as tightly as you could, risking dropping it or having it knocked out of your hand. On bumpy transport, such as a railway or cab, one bump will cause the activation whether you meant to or not. I have often accidentally sent unproofed texts this way.

 

BEGINNING AND ENDING PHONE CALLS

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With my Z30, when doing what should be simple operations such as disconnecting a call, I have to fight the phone to do it, especially if I have had to visit several apps for info during my call and then the phone times out and goes to standby. Instead of simply feeling for and pressing a button without looking, I find without the toolbelt that I have to look at the phone, wake it up, swipe out of the app I was in, find the phone app, THEN I get to hang up.

For someone on the phone all day this time accumulates and takes away from productivity and drains mental energy. The same applies to placing a call with only one key to get to the phone app without having to minimize the app you are in first. These little things add up during the day.

This might sound like a nit, but the timing and speed of a hangup can be important, if something confidential embarrassing or personal occurs during the call (example, five year old enters the room while you are on a business call from your “office”).

Let’s take a look at the other tools in the tool belt, one at a time, and how they might function:

 

 

THE “BACK” KEY and THE ROAD HOME

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In BBOS, this was a key that I could always count on. Unlike context sensitive soft keys, I could count on it always being available, and always in the same place. I could count on it always “undoing” what I had just done. I could count on it to take me back where I had just been, regardless of context. More useful than a home button, it would take me home one step at a time, not all the way all at once. I could back out of any perplexing situation I had accidentally gotten my self into, or I could return to where I had been before when done with what I was doing. Simple consistent and reliable. I miss it dearly in BB10.

In BB10 the way “back” to where you were is not consistent. Depending on context it is different and you have to pause to think which way back, how did I get here? Based on where I am how do I get back? Sometimes you swipe up. Sometimes you swipe right. Sometimes you tap the back button at the bottom left. Sometimes you tap the back button at the bottom middle. Sometimes you tap the back button at the upper left of the virtual keyboard. Sometime you have to close the keyboard just to find the back button. It is not always in the same place.

Shall I go on?
Sometimes its in the middle of the URL bar at the bottom in the native browser. In other browsers it is other places.
Sometimes you have to hit cancel in the upper right. Sometimes you have to tap at the bottom of an app to bring up the back button.

I think you get the point. IN BB10 the way back is not always consistent and available. If implemented properly, the “back” button will solve this. Just feel and click. You go back. Faster, more convenient. fewer headaches, and hence more time and energy to be productive.

THE MENU KEY

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This one is easy. You don’t have to use it, but it’s convenient. Right there next to the trackpad. It’s a shortcut. It brings up the menu. Why not? What more can be said? I’d rather have it – a dedicated button, than have to look for the menu and poke at my screen. It’s not going to disable the OLD way of doing it ;) .

And finally:

THE TRACKPAD

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Ahh the controversial trackpad. Sure, you don’t need it. But how does it hurt if it’s there?
Despite our developer friend Mr. Ebscer’s opinion that “The trackpad will be great at text selection, but anyone expecting to use the pad for app navigation is going to be disappointed.”
I would have to point out that nobody ever expected it to be used for app navigation, and guess what, you can still swipe!

Like other tool belt tools, it’s about convenience. It’s about accuracy.
It gives you two ways to place the cursor and edit text rather than one. You can do it with one thumb. You can do it with your thumb without the risk of accidentally activating something. You can do it with your thumb without blocking your view of the display. You can do it with your thumb without smudging up your screen when you are eating or doing dirty work. You can do it without stretching your thumb and adjusting the device when using one hand to reach the edges of the screen.. You can do it with the same hand you are holding the device with. You can rest your thumb on it and navigate anywhere you want. You can SELECT things (links, menu items) without fear of activating them or activating the wrong one, because you don’t press it until you are SURE, because as with a chess piece you can view your chosen action to be sure before actually activating it.

Lastly, it is a LOT easier to place cursors at the extreme edges of the screen with a trackpad. Don’t deny it.

In summary, Sasktel gives this excellent description of the purpose of the device:

It takes more than fast thumbs and a stone cold focus to stay on top of your inbox and the day’s priorities. BlackBerry® Classic is the ultimate communications tool.

The BlackBerry Classic features a keyboard and navigation keys designed for optimal speed and accuracy, a large square touch screen, a battery that powers through, and the ability to install both Android and BlackBerry Apps.

I miss the toolbelt. I want the toolbelt.
How about you? Are you excited?

Discuss it in the comments or in our forums here.

Blackjack

I am a long time BlackBerry user and fan. Beginning with the 7520, I have recognized the value of subtle productivity enhancements in BlackBerry devices for business communication and have never since strayed. Even when the iPhone took the market by storm, I was unimpressed, because it did nothing to help my business needs. Currently enjoying my one handed dream phone, the Classic! BB10 with a toolbelt! Today I contribute to UTB whenever I feel that I can help enlighten someone on the benefits of using BlackBerry over any other platform.

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