The Storm’s Springy Tactile Feedback
By now, vibrating tactile feedback sounds pretty promising. However, Blackberry opted out of this technology with the Storm. Will customers suffer from RIM’s deliberate omission?
Unlike Windows Mobile devices, where touch screen and keypad-driven devices have radically different interfaces and features, the Storm is built on the same Blackberry 9000 platform (codenamed Thunder) as the Bold. The on-screen buttons don’t look precisely the same, but the OS, the browser and other features are the same, and the familiar Blackberry menu button remains present for applications that aren’t optimized for touch.
Open the keyboard when you hold the Storm in portrait mode like a normal Blackberry and you’ll get the Blackberry Pearl-style SureType keyboard, where many keys have two letters on them (or you can choose a traditional phone keypad where you tap multiple times to choose the letter you want).
Turn the Storm sideways and the accelerometer switches it into landscape mode, with the full QWERTY touch screen keyboard. The screen is spring-loaded. Press on a key and it lights up to make it easier to see whether you’ve hit the key you meant to (the iPhone does this as well through enlarging each key), but the whole screen clicks down or depresses like a key on a physical keyboard.
That’s not haptic feedback, a RIM spokesperson pointed out. “The Blackberry Storm doesn’t include haptics," the spokesperson said. "The entire screen functions like a big button and depresses when the user clicks it. Neither the case nor the screen vibrates, and there’s no vibrational motor."
Because the Storm’s screen is on springs, it also is clickable for links in the browser, plus there is an arrow cursor that follows your finger across the screen, confirming what you’re going to select if you do indeed press down. Just as a tablet PC with an active digitizer (most tablets have this) lets you see what you can click on the same way a mouse does on a PC screen (and so feels much more responsive than one with a passive pen that doesn’t give you hints about the interface), having a cursor that makes it very clear what you’re going to click on could improve the touch screen experience on the Storm as well.
Here’s a video from European carrier Vodafone extolling the virtues of the Storm’s touch screen.
The feedback isn’t localized either, a RIM spokesperson said. “When you press the right side of the screen, the whole screen depresses (and the same goes for the left side),” the spokesperson said. But that feedback will still be helpful for using the keyboard.
Although there are experimental technologies like piezoelectric actuators (used in Nokia’s Haptikos prototype, some Alpine car stereos and some portable devices available in Japan) that can give you feedback closer to the area you press on, most vibrotactile haptic feedback vibrates the whole device.
Piezoelectric actuators can be very small and thin and they use very little current, but they need a very high voltage (up to 300 V), which means you need a separate power circuit in the device. The vibration feels different too, Immersion’s Levin said. “They’re higher frequency so they can give very crisp effects," Levin said. "You get very small but quick motions out of them — you’re going to get a quick click but you won’t feel it moving the way a real key would.”
RIM is working with Immersion, Levin confirmed. "We’ve got a relationship with RIM, but it is nothing I can disclose,” Levin said. So why didn’t the Storm incorporate the vibrotactile feedback most people think of when they talk about haptics?