BlackPad: Why we want a virtual trackpad on the BlackBerry PlayBook

The BlackPad?
By Joseph Holder on 2 Jun 2011 02:12 pm EDT

A few weeks ago, our own CrackBerry Kevin made a suggestion for the BlackBerry PlayBook's gestures. Just as a single finger swipe bezel-to-bezel will wake the tablet, Kevin suggested a two-finger gesture to put the device to sleep.

In that spirit, I thought I'd make my own suggestion to the PlayBook. You know a diagonal swipe from either of the two bottom corners will open the virtual keyboard. Wouldn't it be nice for Research In Motion to design a virtual trackpad, too? They could even call it the BlackPad, resurrecting that name from the past.

I have big ol' fingers, and sometimes they just aren't good enough for the millimeter precision required for editing text. I have a knack for typing browser addresses that are just slightly wrong. When I go to edit them, I invariably miss the letter I was trying to select; instead selecting somewhere nearby. I'm forced to backspace over perfectly good text to get to my error. It would be so much nicer to be able to slide the cursor just a little bit one way or the other.

The Flash experience on the BlackBerry PlayBook is arguably unequaled in the tablet world; and Flash works spectacularly well on the device. That being said, there is something important missing from this experience: right-click. Many web interfaces need that right-click functionality. The best example of this is remote management software. Using free programs like LogMeIn and TeamViewer, you can control your computer perfectly through the PlayBook...except for right clicking. And double-clicking, but that's something that could be accomplished with a virtual trackpad as well.

Is there anybody else out there with inaccurate fingers? Would a virtual trackpad help you? Do you need right-click abilities at websites you use? Sound off in the comments.

Reader comments

BlackPad: Why we want a virtual trackpad on the BlackBerry PlayBook


I have big fingers but I think that a trackpad would take up too much of the Playbook's already limited screen real estate.

You could do it that the whole screen is the trackpad and you don't see it and for the buttons just make certain spots on the bezel to be touched

Some websites ( for example) even have a hard time recognizing touches for left clicks. I think this suggestion would solve even those problems. This would be a quick fix to many problems so that Playbook owners wouldn't need everyone out there to rewrite their stuff for us. Also, occasionally a mouse pointer like cursor would be very useful for accurate "clicking".

Great suggestion, and poor word choice jav3lin.

I couldn't aggree more, I need a way to refine the text selection process. I would rather see a trackpad on the bezzel in a future generation of the PB.

the suggestion kevin made is'nt feasible, if you did that switching from app to app, would make the playbook accidently go to standby. you wouldn't be able to swype with passion.

that being said i love my playbook don't miss the trackpad, one a phone it's more usefull because of the smaller screen
by the way i typed this on my playbook how cool is that:d

Kevin's suggestion is feasible because to wake up the playbook you swipe up or down from bezel to bezel but switching apps is left or right from bezel to middle.

This reminds me of how u could use cursor mode in the storm 9530, the cursor would hover just above your finger, so u could see what your were clicking, without touching the actual text/image/what have you. This would make BT mouse capabilities pointless too.

I don't know if this is the best solution, but I have certainly felt the pain you're describing. It is very difficult to get the cursor where I want it to be in order to edit text.

I think a diagonal swipe from the bottom-right to bring up ARROW keys so if you need to move your blinking cursor over one or two characters, it can be done easily.

I like the bluetooth idea, but there should be a way without having to use a mouse on a 7" screen. I think the track pad would be a good idea. Really you could "zoom in" gesture and click a little bit more easy, but not all areas can zoom in like this. perhaps a mouse icon could pop up just above or below your finger\(depending on where you are trying to click would have to be smart). I could appear just .5 seconds after pressing the screen, and upon removal of the finger, it would click where the mouse pointer i pointing. I will post a picture of my idea soon:

Kinda hard to see, but I will explain. If you look right about the "ALL" tab she has selected in blue, there is a red crosshair which would be the "click point" had she held her finger down for more than .5 seconds. This "Click point" would work upon removing the finger from the screen. The "All" button would not have been clicked, only the area above it, so you can see where you are clicking.

it would have to be intuitive, that at a certain height of the screen, it would flip to underneath the finger, instead of above it.

Hope you understand! This would not require a part of the screen to be covered by a track pad.

As said, it definitly could be implanted on the right bottum corner of the PB. I'd imagin it with a right/left held click for options, but its main function would be a arrow corser (I imagin it wouldn't distrupt the keyboard when typeing, but to auto go away when taping away from it).
Then again, someone could make an app (or inprove the bridge), to make a BB phone the corser... Or both.

I love the idea. I not only have phat fingers but frequent need for right click capability. And no I don't wish to pack a keyboard and mouse around with me.

I have thought a lot about this too, missing from all touch screen devices is a cursor, we lose the ability to hover. When you think about it, the WWW was designed around a cursor and suddenly removing it is painful from a user's perspective. I can't tell you the number of times I have just grazed a banner ad only to have a new tab open when all I wanted to do was scroll.

You would think RIM would be the company to make an attempt to rectify this. They tried with the Storm and SurePress - worked well but confused people leading to a huge amount of bad press that still lingers in a big way. We need arrow keys at a bare minimum as there is no way to manipulate text on the playbook or the iPad, it is simply too painful.

I think a UI like the Kineck has would be good. You touch something hot like a link or an ad and your finger glows giving you a second to accept or change your mind. This could be a feature that can be turned on or off with a swipe and it can be made to work just like a mouse or trackpad when editing text. This is supposed to be a professional tablet and so far it offers little in regards to productivity.

That would be quite nice! And since a little trackpad won't take up too much space, maybe accompany it with a couple arrow keys on the bar that will pop up with the trackpad..

For now, I'm content using the drag to highlight function..

I use a bluetooth mouse and it totally solves this problem. It isn't really a problem sticking it in a pocket or section of a bag along with the playbook so I always have it with me. I guess it shouldn't need to be compulsory though, having said that.

Although this doesn't solve the right click problem, I think for text editing a better implementation might be to simply use the bezel for horizontal and vertical cursor movement. Maybe have it so that whenever the keyboard is open, this feature is activated. We can get by without diagonal movement and at least this way we won't lose precious screen real estate. As it stands now, typing on the Playbook is really cumbersome. i own an iPad and they really got typing on that thing down. It's easy right out of the box. Playbook, not so much. My Samsung Galaxy tab is also easier to type on even though it's as small as the Playbook. I'm typing this now on my PB and it's so frustrating. i actually hate typing on this thing. It's moments like these where it's clearest to see just how RIM doesn't get it. It's the accumulation of little things that makes people feel like BlackBerry as a brand is a product of yesteryear.

I hate typing on mine too, it is funny how when a device is new I try so hard to like it and then after a while I just start to hate it. I like the PlayBook as fanboy I suppose, but I really don't find it useful. The same goes for the iPad, I just don't find it useful except for Garage Band which is why I own it. RIM has a long way to go to make the playbook truly useful, the developers are not helping much so far.

I much prefer the UI of the PlayBook and the web browser is excellent. When I go back to the iPad I am always swiping the bezel and getting no joy.

I agree. I think QNX is a great OS with so much potential but right now it feels unfinished relative to the far more polished gold standard of iOS. If RIM would spend as much effort as Apple in trying to clean up their OS user experience, I think they'd have a real winner on their hands. I still believe, with a polished UI, they can make a come back in terms of mind share. On BGR there's an article (that Crackberry wouldn't dare post) that says even a dinosaur like the US government recognizes that the line separating business and pleasure is disappearing, so they're moving from BBs to iPhones and Android devices.

Come on, RIM. This is getting ridiculous now. I'm still a BB fan, but if you take a step back and look at these CrackBerry blog posts, it's starting to look like a second-rate brand trying desperately to show they're cool too (even though they're not). RIM is starting to look like they're at about the same level as Pantech, except Pantech is only trying to be Pantech. RIM is trying to play in the big leagues.

To be honest, I'm kind of regretting buying my PB on the first day. I kind of wish I upgraded to an iPad2 instead. At least I'd have better apps. I basically paid $600 for a 7-inch Internet browser. Nothing else is useful about the PB.

It would be cool if the blackberry torch I have coule become the bluetooth keyboard / trackpad for the playbook I'm going to buy. This means I would not only save money by not buying a bluetooth keyboard / mouse, but I will always have my torch with me along with the playbook. Maybe this isn't possible, I don't know.

If the torch (or whatever model) became the bluetooth keyboard / trackpad for my playbook, right clicking could be achieved using a trackpad long press or the blackberry / back buttons beside it I don't know, maybe it wouldn't work.

It is possible because there is software to use you blackberry as the keyboard and mouse for your desktop, and since the playbook to is posix it can be ported over fairly easy.

Why not just add arrow keys to the keyboard? Also I love the new on screen keyboard being shown in Windows 8 previews that is split into 2 thumb keyboards.

How about having an app on the BlackBerry phone you can bridge to the playbook and using your phone as your mouse pad... obviously you need a touchscreen device.

Perhaps for the rumored Playbook 2 that is supposed to have a bigger screen. But on this one? Wouldn't want to give up screen space.

I don't know how programmable is the bezel but what i suggest is this... i don't know if it should be called gestures, 1 side (lets say LEFT BEZEL) the functionality of the Blackberry TRACKPAD (you know like the one in the 9700, etc) and for the other side (RIGHT BEZEL) the Right click (or why not even function as a convenience key when tapped).

Other thing that this idea could solve is the lack of Arrow keys that is so needed in many Flash Games.

Think about the size of the trackpad on your phones. It wouldn't necessarily have to take up that much room on the Playbook screen. The thing I am concerned about in relying instead on a BT mouse/keyboard, is that you are alreasy using BT for the Bridge, which means you are sharing BT with your phone. Doesn't the use of a BT mouse and/or keyboard compromise BT functionality?

no at least in theory, but i guess is just a matter of testing. Worst case scenario the Bridge gets even slower (if possible)

I think a good idea for a right Click would be two finger command, one finger on the border and the other finger to what ever subject you are clicking. On another note I would like to see scrolling in the border, ie one finger drag either bottom or side, I find I am either closing an app or selecting something I don't want when scrolling on the main screen.

YES! I would love this so I could Copy/Paste web addresses into messages. Brilliant idea! I hope you filed for a patent before you posted this...

this and spell check are 2 things i need from rim.
i find it faster to retype stuff than to try and edit anything. i dare say i tend to go back to my bb 9800 when i have to type.

I've been posting on the needs of the Playbook ever since it came out. I've never heard of the BlackpPad before but it sounds interesting. I'd def be down for it. What I've been suggesting since it came out though was that "selection dot" Android has. I personally love it and it's sooo easy to use, not to mention handy! I really do hope they add that and Swype.

This is a pretty good idea.

Except I think I would Rather have a option to HOLD 1 finger on the screen and use the other finger to float a mouse over dot around the screen lifting my finger off would leave a curse double tap is left click triple tap is right click or something similar I haven't put a LOT of thought into it yet, but for flash websites we very much need a cursor and mouse over abilities

Hmmm. Not sold on the idea. I'd have to try it to see if it works...
I certainly think the quicker, more simple solution would be to add arrow keys to the existing keyboard. Right-click button is a nice idea though.

I also think they need to have a setting that lets you determine a transparency level for the keyboard (and this pad were it added) as these things take up too much damn screen real estate! That issue could be easily solved by having the KB transparent...

I agree with the article. I visit a site that allows you to select text as a highlight, make notes, etc and save the annotation for the next time you visit the site. The problem is that on the Playbook browser you either get the text select on the device, not the site (so the highlight function doesn't work) or the browser window scrolls as you move your finger across the screen (because you had to zoom in to get the precision you lose by touching a screen with inaccurate fingers that you cannot see through). The "Blackpad" would fix that right quick. I would happily give up a small piece of screen real estate for the moments I need precision and the ability to highlight and not select text. Now I am waiting for the update! Let's hope it comes quickly.

I'd LOVE a trackpad feature. It infuriates me; trying to get the cursor to the right space. I too, am a big guy with sausage fingers. It'd be nice to have a trackpad. It could slide out from the bottom right corner with a bottom right bezel swipe. Leave the keyboard to the L bottom corner bezel swipe. That'd be perfect!

(sausage like)Fingers crossed!

totally agree. it needs something. i'm love that i can twitter and FBon the tablet, but i find i'm going back to my BB Bold to tweet and post because of the spell check and scrolling functions. The Playbook would be much better if the virtual kb had arrow keys on it and spelling worked like it does on the phones.

I would suggest to put the arrow keys in the existing virtual keyboard.
When you press the "123 sym" key, you have that blue switch which is switcing to special characters. It could have another state, or maybe instead of having the same blue switch on both left and right sides, just have the right side switch to bring up the arrow keys. And maybe F1-F12 keys too.
The right click could be done with 2-finger short touch like in Logmein Ignition on the iPhone.
Actually I like very much how you control the mouse cursor in Logmein Ignition. You have the cursor always there, similar like on PC and move the mouse by touching and dragging anywhere on the screen, not necessarily at the mouse position.
I don't think is necessary an extra gesture for standby. You can touch the battery icon and touch standby.