Thursday, January 29, 2009

How BlackBerry Touch Screen Technology Works

The BlackBerry Storm smartphone breaks new ground for BlackBerry wireless devices. This one is missing those ubiquitous little QWERTY keys below the display. They are replaced by a touch screen technology called "SurePress." Your QWERTY keyboard is still there. But now it's on the screen rather than a separate physical keyboard.

BlackBerry Storm. Click Here for details.So how do they do that? How did they get rid of the keys but still keep the physical sensation of using a keyboard, and why? The why is probably easiest to explain. All those little keys take up a lot of real estate. If you want to have a larger display screen so that you can more easily read documents and images, watch videos or access applications, something has to give. If the screen is going to get bigger, then one of two things has to happen. Either the device grows in size or something else has to be eliminated to maintain the familiar "fits in your hand" form factor.

In the case of the BlackBerry Storm, the design decision was to keep the device a familiar pocket size and enlarge the screen by eliminating as many physical buttons as possible. There are 4 buttons below the screen. They're the usual send and end telephone buttons, plus menu and return buttons. Everything else is on the screen, including the dial pad for making calls. Without a slide-out keypad the Storm can maintain a thin 0.55 inch profile.

BlackBerry isn't the first with touchscreen capabilities in a cell phone. The Apple iPhone made quite a splash in this regard. But BlackBerry has gone the extra distance to ensure that a virtual key emulates a physical key as much as possible. The magic of the SurePress technology is flexibility in the display screen, called a "popple dome". When you push on a virtual button, the screen depresses slightly and pushes back, as if there were a spring right under the display surface, and you hear a click. This physical and audible feedback makes you think there's a physical pushbutton where you just pressed. But look again. It's just a screen with a picture on it. Change the screen view and the button disappears.

Another bit of technology that enables the BlackBerry touch screen is a built-in accelerometer. An accelerometer detects motion. I suppose you could program it to scream if someone threw the phone across the room. But in this case the purpose of the accelerometer is to detect the orientation of the BlackBerry Storm. If you are holding it straight up, the screen is set to portrait mode. But when you twist it to a lengthwise orientation, the screen switches quickly to landscape mode. Both graphics and the virtual keyboard will follow your moves and maintain the proper viewing orientation.

The end result is a smartphone with a 3.25 inch high-resolution touch screen in a 4.4 x 2.5 x 0.55 inch case that provides full BlackBerry functionality, including email, web browsing, messaging, and quad band GSM cellular phone. Plus there's EVDO Rev A broadband with 3G Internet access up to 3.1 Mbps, GPS service support, 1 GB of onboard memory and a 3.2 Megapixel digital camera. Talk time is a respectable 280 minutes. Not bad for 5.5 ounces in total.

How does the Storm compare with other BlackBerry phones you may be familiar with? There's an easy online tool to compare BlackBerry phone models that you can use. Check the features and specifications side by side and see which BlackBerry device you prefer.

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