Apple stunned the world when they first announced the iPhone. RIM, Microsoft, and others all laughed at the then ‘insane’ idea of an all-touch phone with a virtualized keyboard. The iPhone’s success eventually lead to all of the competition in the mobile space trying their version of a touch phone. Research In Motion eventually rushed to the market their own all-touch device, utilizing the company’s first-ever built virtual keyboard. Here we take a look at the evolution of the BlackBerry virtual keyboard.

BlackBerry Storm

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The BlackBerry Storm introduced a unique technology where the touchscreen would slightly click in upon wanting to select a key or anything else within the UI. SurePress was RIM’s way of combining a touchscreen with the similar feeling of a physical keyboard. The SurePress touch technology was surely innovative, but it was hardly perfected before entering the market. Unfortunately for RIM, the Storm is the company’s most notable blunder, yet the ancestor of the first BlackBerry virtual keyboard to be found first in OS5.

BlackBerry Storm2

RIM’s next attempt at the BlackBerry virtual keyboard was with the second generation Storm. The BlackBerry Storm2 utilized the Piezo technology, which made the touch experience more responsive. The Storm2’s SurePress capability was improved and made the touch/clicking feel more sturdy and easier to type quickly. The virtual keyboard itself hadn’t changed much in aesthetics, and despite its second attempt many can argue that the Storm2 was an additional failure. The main cause of this is partly due to its ‘silent release’. In other words, RIM hardly marketed the Storm2, to show consumers how they improved the product.

BlackBerry Storm 9570

When we leaked the first and ONLY photos of the Storm 9570, it gave us a nice glimpse of what OS6 would look like on an all-touch device. The Storm 9570 would have been the third iteration of the Storm series, but it never saw the light of the day besides internal and corporate beta testing. In OS6 we see RIM re-skinned the virtual keyboard and added a few new shortcuts, but overall kept a familiar look coming from the original found in the Storm and Storm2.

BlackBerry Torch 9800

The BlackBerry Torch 9800 was the first BlackBerry to utilize the new keyboard from OS6. The Torch 9800 also ditched the SurePress touchscreen technology.  Thus, giving users a ‘typical’ touch experience as found on the iPhone. Typing on the 9800’s virtual keyboard was a fairly nice feature. One addition in this new virtual keyboard was the pop-up keys, which resembled that of the iPhone. Nonetheless, BlackBerry diehards were pleased with the progressive nature of the virtual keyboard.

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BlackBerry Torch 9860, 9850, 9810, & Curve 9380

With the introduction of OS7 and 7.1, RIM introduced a much cleaner and revamped keyboard. The keyboard’s responsiveness and accuracy was greatly improved over its predecessors. OS7 and 7.1’s virtual keyboard added new shortcuts, a new skin, and new feature to minimize the keyboard. Overall, the typing experience was nearly equivalent to the iPhone and any other touchscreen device. RIM had at last built a BlackBerry phone with a nice virtual keyboard.

BlackBerry PlayBook

What seemed out of left field, RIM changed up their whole game. QNX, a leading operating system, was purchased for the pursuit of future BlackBerry OS. The old Java-based operating system would soon become a thing of the past with QNX and the introduction of the BlackBerry PlayBook. In the PlayBook OS there was totally new virtual keyboard. The new keyboard allowed for multi-touch and was by far the most responsive virtual keyboard RIM had ever built. Eventually, in PlayBook OS 2 RIM took it a step further by using Swype technology as the base, which we’ll come to understand why in BlackBerry 10.

BlackBerry 10

RIM stunned the world with its revolutionary virtual keyboard in BlackBerry 10. Literally,  jaws dropped from nearly everyone during its demonstration at BlackBerry World 2012. The virtual keyboard in BlackBerry 10 resembles the look of a BlackBerry’s physical keyboard with the ‘chrome bars’. What’s innovative about the virtual keyboard in BB10 is the use of predictive text and how you simply swipe up to select your next word. We recently went hands-on with the keyboard, which you can see in the video here. The BlackBerry 10 keyboard also has a host of swipe gestures for deleting words and more. RIM definitely upped the anty with virtualized keyboards that even an iOS developer wanted to emulate it.

It has been a unique history for RIM, a company that built its success on email and its premiere physical keyboards. While the beginning was a struggle, RIM has hit the ground running and we’re deeply impressed with how far they’ve come. We’re most certainly eager to see how RIM continues to improve and innovate the virtual keyboard. What do you think could be next for the evolution of the BlackBerry virtual keyboard?