RIMM, you convinced me to buy an iPhone

Anyone who knows me is fully aware I have obsessed over the pending release of Blackberry’s first touch screen device (the Storm, scheduled to be released November 21) for the last 12 plus months.

This morning I had the privilege to play with the device at a ‘first touch’ event and, though it was still beta software, I got a good feel of the device. Overall, I was not impressed. That being said, I kept the words “not final release” repeating in my head but I think I did a good job of separating beta release issues from true technical and interaction issues.

The top ten reasons I am disapointed with the Storm, in no particular order:

1. Haptic feedback

Over the last year I was led to believe the Storm would provide haptic feedback similar to the Verizon Voyager with a grid of speakers and localized bounce upon selecting a screen item. Instead, the whole screen is a single button, in a similar fashion to Apple’s new track pad on their notebooks. While I think this could work on a notebook (haven’t had the opportunity to try it) I think it completely defeats the purpose in a mobile device. Users rely on physical feedback to blindly type and find buttons in their pocket but that is not possible with a single feedback source. The entire concept of haptic feedback is voided by the inefficiency of the solution.

2. Suretype – Keyboard

They still use multitouch or suretype (user controlled preference) as the input method in the portrait mode. Apple was able to fit a QWERTY keyboard in portrait mode, why cant you? Suretype does not work for a touchscreen, plain and simple.

3. Suretype – navigation

The Storm does a great job of separating TAP from SELECT. Being said, target areas in lists are too small at the default size and I tap at a force deemed a click. Now this, I will outright admit is a learned motor skill, and the sensitivity can be changed but I like to think some basic testing could have uncovered this. Also, the need to tap a selection, then click it again (yes, you can click right away but then there is no confirmation that I selected the correct field) adds roughly 60% more keystrokes to my workload. (That statisitc has a 40% error to it and was made up entirely for this post.)

4. Keyboard Access

The combination of a touchscreen and a physical set of keys is bold (blackberry pun intended.) To open the keyboard is more than easy: tap a text field or select the keyboard icon. To close it, I need three keystrokes and to switch between input methods each time.

Step 1: Switch from typing to the physical blackberry menu key

Step 2: Switch back to the touch screen and scroll through the menu to find “close keyboard”

Step 3: Tap or Click my selection.

Now it was mentioned you can close the keyboard with a toggle. I couldn’t find it and I had close to a half hour with the baby toy. Unfortunately, the representatives were too busy trying to sell the devices to help out a designer.

5. Browser

Simple put, I love the full html, alleged flash support (no time to see it but asked about) and the ability to switch to a mobile browser view. Being said, the overall interface is clunky and needs a touch screen redesign.

6. Icons, Animation, and Rendering

Tip of the hat to the designer who used color sparingly. This is a nice step from the single color gradient iPhone apps. Being said, the stroke on the icons is far too thin causing be to actually have to read labels. In the animation world, I am going to chock this up to BETA. I saw none of the advertised animation when switching device orientation and flicking was more a stepped jump than any type of accelerated/decelerating motion.

7. Predictive Type

Does not work in non-conventional fields such as URL input on the browser or where I need to put in my email address. Just shouldnt be there and it is.

8. SMS

Completing the TO field I switched to number mode in the keyboard (landscape mode).

1a. The numbers are ordered in a keyboard layout in cellphone order. Which makes no sense to any mapping technique. What happened to top row numbers?

2b. The numbers switch back to letters after each character. I am sure there is a way to change this but device: have the smarts to know if this can accept names OR numbers, and I type a number, the rest of the string will follow suit. I will tell you if the number is 412.867.530P

9. Zoom

Yes, I know Apple has the Monopoly on multitouch and hence the awesome zooming. Still, the zoom in zoom out toggle is a little too 1995 for me. See my final thoughts on that.

10. Paging

I realized this one a few hour after my initial notes. But every app for the Storm is listed on a single page that you must scroll though. This makes it difficult to know where you are in the list and how many you have. The iPhone offers a nice organization methods, so you can categorize applications any way you see fit… and they have those clever dots to let you know which page your on

11. Nickel and Dime

So not a design issue, but I feel Blackberry is really good at charging for every little feature. Granted they are a business centric not a consumer centric product, but they even charge for visual voice mail… a free utility in iPhones.

What I Would Like to See

Go back a few years ago to the blackberry without a trackball but an infinitely scrolling side wheel. Now use that to zoom in the website as you select.

Use that to navigate the Copy and Paste Function.

Use the accelerometer better… BRICKBREAKER… easily the selling factor for a blackberry user on the subway. Except I need to click and drag the bar across the screen. What happened to using the accelerometer to tilt the device? Or does Apple have the rights to that also?

Conclusion

So the Storm is innovative, sexy, and awesome. All true. I can’t wait to see the second release though because as of right now, its lacking a lot of fixable functionality and interactivity. To use the Storm metaphor RIMM loves, they’re at a Category 1 or Tropical Storm grade, far from the Category 3 Hurricane Andrew from 1992 or Katrina, or anything else.

-IMHO

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