The BlackBerry Q20 brings back the trackpad and the “tool belt” of the classic BlackBerry. As expected with every new BlackBerry device announced, people have polarizing views. We put out a poll asking how you felt, and it’s been a mixed reaction.
Our very own JT Teran wrote an opinion piece expressing his dislike for the idea of the trackpad, so I felt it was only fair to do a piece as to why I welcome back the trackpad to BlackBerry 10.

This post is going to get long, I’ll give you a quick TL:DR list of why the trackpad and function keys are a welcome addition:

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  • The trackpad brings improved text selection
  • Mouseover/hover capabilities in the browser
  • Reduced amount of travel distance for your thumb
  • Gratifying disconnection from a phone call with the End key
  • Familiarity and muscle memory for legacy users
  • Consistent with the Q10/Q5 for app portability

Now, for those of you with more of an attention span, I’ll expand on my points and forgive me if I ramble into a few others I didn’t list for the TL:DR crowd.

I am a BlackBerry Q10 user, I have the Z10, Z30, iPhone and other devices to give me perspectives, but I love having a keyboard. Unfortunately, the Q10 has always felt like it was missing something. The Q20 hopefully will rectify this with the tool belt of trackpad and function keys. BlackBerry 10 text selection is the best of any touchscreen only option, which is saying something for an OS that has been out for a little over a year, compared to rivals who have been doing the touch only game for as many as 7 years. Although just because it is the best in that category doesn’t mean it is the best solution available.

Improved text selection

The trackpad on BlackBerry 7 gave fine cursor control. Let me give you an example. If I needed to add a U to a couple of words that were spellchecked by someone with the wrong dictionary, and they were, one in the top left corner and the other in the bottom right corner of the screen, the trackpad coupled with the touchscreen would work perfectly to help me correct that quickly. You simply touch near the word and navigate into it with the trackpad, regardless of its proximity to the edge of the screen. Then, touch near the next word and do the same. Should you be on a bumpy train, the sliding side to side on the trackpad gives less unintentional selections and clicks than trying to tap the circle BlackBerry 10 has to select text on your touchscreen.

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Mouseover/hover capabilities

When I speak of mouseover/hover not everyone gets what I’m talking about. To put it simply, on your computer, when you move the mouse over some items an action happens. On N4BB, mouse over the menu below our logo and a blue bar highlights what you’re about to press. On some sites, a mouse over brings a dropdown menu instead. In some flash games, a mouseover is how you move around a map a click is how you attack. The availability of mouseover just increases the available content on the web for BlackBerry Q20 users who will not be limited to touch friendly interactions. (Try playing this game with a touchscreen: Don’t touch the walls)

Reduced amount of travel distance for your thumb

When BlackBerry spoke about the Z10 keyboard, and flicking words from the frets they spoke about the reasoning behind it was to keep your fingers in the action and not breaking your flow while typing. The reintroduction of the “belt” keys does this as well, as one’s thumb does not have to pass the top half of the device. The range of motion one must have is a fraction of that on a device without the trackpad. As you type and you need to go back and adjust a number or maybe move a period, your thumb goes but an inch to the trackpad to take the cursor back, and make your correction; no readjustment of your hand. With the Q10 and other unfashionably belt-less devices, you’ve got to raise your thumb to the word, tap the area, and then tap the selection circle until you get to the spot. Then, bring your thumb down back to the keyboard. You’re breaking the flow! We do not yet know how the back button and menu button will be implemented, but again, on a physical keyboard device, you are hitting keys while typing to hit a key and get back to typing. The beauty is, should you want to interact with the screen, your option is still there!

Gratifying disconnection from a phone call with the End key

With the Q20, I expect that when I am on a phone call, I will continue to have the option to use the UI I am familiar with on the Q10, but should I want to hang up angrily I can smash my finger on the END key. In the case of call waiting, I won’t need to take the phone away from my ear to press END to switch to the new caller and back.

Familiarity and muscle memory for legacy users

My first week with my Q10 my thumb always went above the T,Y keys automatically to perform an action. While I had been using a Z10 for over a month my muscle memory of far too many hours spent punching away the keys of BlackBerry devices since 2008 was quick to return. Sure, now I am familiar with the gestures and I most certainly would not want to see them go, but those first weeks with my Q10 would have been much easier had I had a trackpad. The familiarity of the device usage is so important to those of us who are not phone geeks. Those that want to pick it up and know how to use it.

Well, BlackBerry 10 isn’t BlackBerry 7. BlackBerry 10 is a completely new experience and unfamiliar to those from BlackBerry 7 and before. The experience is such a jump that the binding familiarity that makes people stick to a brand is all but gone. If the user has to make such a jump, what is the extra step to iPhone or Android? The return of the Belt makes that jump just a bit smaller, letting legacy users get the time to fall in love with BlackBerry 10 as so many others have done.

I’d like to end this with what the Q20 could NOT be, there is much discussion that the space the belt takes would be better used for a larger screen. While that argument is valid, the problem in that argument lies in the apps. BlackBerry Q series devices currently are 1:1 or 720×720 resolution devices, and its apps are made for 1:1 resolution. BlackBerry Dev’s team has come out and told developers not to fret: Q series apps will work out of the box with the Q20, so that means it has to have a 1:1 resolution. To extend the screen down, and to take up the space the belt will live in, would mean an equal amount of width would be needed, making the device too wide for 1 handed use. If, for some strange reason, they changed the resolution to a 3:4 as many have written about or modeled in their mockups, apps would need to be retooled, and we’d be introducing fragmentation. Just look at the number of Z10 apps that aren’t on the Z30, and there is very little pixel differentiation between the two devices. Making the Q20 not fit exactly with Q10/Q5 apps would be bad for BlackBerry.

I am a physical keyboard user. My next phone will have a physical keyboard, and this is a product designed for people who are physical keyboard users. I really think that this device will sell into this demographic.

Thank you to our own @urbanglowcam for doing the mockup I used as the featured image.