Why I’ve had such a hard time mastering the BlackBerry PlayBook’s keyboard

4 Different keyboards
By Joseph Holder on 9 Jun 2011 03:41 pm EDT

It's the Torch's fault. Well, I suppose it's originally the Storm's fault, but I'm getting ahead of myself. I've had some difficulty in actually using the PlayBook's keyboard. I can see all the keys without problem; it's pressing them in the right order that's the trouble. When I type with a full computer keyboard, I don't really think about the individual letters I'm using to craft these words. I taught myself to type when I was 8 (Mavis Beacon rules!); I've been typing without looking for years.

Even typing on the BlackBerry smartphone's keyboard, I can just about type by touch alone. I, like many of you, have trained myself on using the BlackBerry's keyboard very quickly. The keyboard and the operating system work hand-in-hand to make this as easy as possible. Auto-text and word substitution on your BlackBerry can become your best friend. Youre becomes you're without a thought. Double-space after a word to insert a period and automatically capitalize the next letter. In fact, that one typing shortcut is probably the most used on your smartphone. How many of you have double-spaced on your home computer and were then momentarily confused when the period didn‘t show up?

Then there's the virtual keyboard on the Torch which is ultimately the descendant of the keyboard on the Storm devices. Apparently, I am an oddity in the BlackBerry world; I use and like the virtual keyboard on the Torch. Though many people don't seem to believe me, the secret is to trust the keyboard. I don't have to touch all the right keys to type what I want; in fact, frequently I don‘t. The operating system is clever enough to guess at what I meant to type; the OS knows I wanted to type "CrackBerry" when my thumbs actually spell "Ctsclberrh."

That brings us to the virtual keyboard on the BlackBerry PlayBook.

The ol' keyboard switcharoo 

The PlayBook's keyboard features none of these enhancements. Considering just how important the keyboard is to life on a BlackBerry, the virtual one on the PlayBook leaves something to be desired. BlackBerry users have a difficult time with the Caps and Numbers/Symbols on the PlayBook's keyboard because the two keys are reversed on the smartphone keyboard. We have trained ourselves that Caps is down and numbers to the side. Not true on the PlayBook.

It all comes down to this. I have a BlackBerry Torch and a BlackBerry PlayBook. Depending on whether I use the physical or virtual keyboard on the Torch or the keyboard on the PlayBook, I have to adapt how I type on the three different keyboards. Where my typing on the Torch is automatically corrected for me and I can type without thinking, I have a great deal of trouble typing precisely on the PlayBook. I have to consider which virtual keyboard I'm using: sometimes caps lock is down, other times it's to the side.  

CrackBerry and RIM 

We're pretty sure at least a couple people at Research In Motion read our little blog (Hi, Douglas!), so please consider this a bit of friendly constructive criticism. Arguably, the keyboard is the most important part of a BlackBerry. Through it, a mobile internet device becomes a mobile communications hub. Countless hours of design and contemplation have gone in to the BlackBerry keyboard. Mike Lazaridis' white paper "Success Lies in Paradox" explored the efficient use of tiny keyboards, ultimately leading to the very first BlackBerry devices. Auto-text and word substitution on BlackBerry smartphones are best in class. You'll never see a website devoted to correction failures on a BlackBerry.

All I'm saying is that it's time for the PlayBook's keyboard to feel some of that love, devotion, and attention.

Reader comments

Why I’ve had such a hard time mastering the BlackBerry PlayBook’s keyboard


you are just like me.. :) on top of all im missing my auto text.. you know.. mynumber (you can never remember this)... and mypin... mymail (this one i had to add myself..)

Great post Joseph, this needs to be addressed. I am happy using both physical and virtual keyboards. There needs to be a little more standardization to make the experience more seamless. My vote would be for the PB to follow the precedence set by the Torch. The virtual keyboard can have a little variance in the bottom line base on the type of input required. The presence of the .com for instance is a great addition but why not have a .ca and .co.uk options as well.

I really miss the auto text feature. It is nice that autotext works in the bb bridge. Unfortunately even on the bb, autotext feature is a little catty wompus. Form fields on web pages where an autotext shortcut for an email address would reduce the amount of keystrokes, the auto text doesn't work.

Why not give us an option to switch our preferred default keyboards in both landscape and portrait the way you can choose from a number of different setups on basically every video game?

I usually use 2-thumb typing; even while in landscape. Sometimes I wish the keyboard would be a little more scrunched at the sides with the middle being devoid of keys.

never got used to the virtual keyboard on the torch. but i quickly got used to the playbooks keyboard and i like it more.

Totally agree! And where is cap lock? But also frustrating is that the keyboard rarely recognizes the type of field that the characters are being entered. For example the @ key and .com key require unnecessary extra keystrokes. And why do I need a key always present to select the language? That should be a general setting which frees up space for a missing set of context sensitive functions.

100% true!! The discrepancies in layout and behaviour are almost unforgivable!

The experience needs to be consistent across the various devices - this builds brand familiarity and loyalty. Plus, you "pre-trained" for free and it works as expected. Furthermore, why come up with a different way of doing what you've already worked out how to do.

You highlight that Shift and Sym are switched, but so are Right Shift and Return. I don't actually care so much about which way it is, I more care that it be the same way on all devices and ultimately, should copy their physical keyboards exactly.

Totally agree. This is one of the reasons I have not taken to using my PB as a primary device. It's nice to play games and maybe watch a video, but I will not type emails or BBMs because of this damn unintuitive keyboard! And, you can't say "I told you so" to people who bought it who must have known it was unfinished and needed enhancements. I read all about the PB before purchasing and understood what I was getting myself into, and I had no idea that a basic functionality like the keyboard would be so dysfunctional.

Good article... had not noticed the caps lock / shift inversion, but did perceive the awkwardness...

Just a quick note... had anyone noticed that after the OS update you now get special symbos when you press on a letter on the keyboard for a few seconds?

A pop-up show up showing you the symbols that are available for that letter, included accented vowels for french, spanish, etc...

Check it out!!!

Exactly! Switch the Shift and Alt keys on the PlayBook keyboard, add auto-text and global spell check, and keyboard usage on the PlayBook would be familiar and perfect.

seeing as i don't have a playbook yet (waiting to see if the 4G from sprint is worth the wait or just get the wi-fi alone version) i may not understand what you are talking about or that i have a 9650 bold with a physical keyboard. what i do know is that if BB has the keyboard one way on a phone but another on the PB, then they are doing what we all don't want them to do is keep up with apple, because on my ipad the keyboard is as you described on the playbook and if BB went with this keyboard to keep up with the Joneses then bad move, be yourself and stay with what you know works and stop confusing your loyal, regular constituents!
this brings up another question though, what is the virtual keyboard gonna be like on the OS7 devices, i.e. Bold touch, Torch 2, etc.?

I'm able to touch type on the PB keyboard if it's laying flat since my hands are fairly small. I also find it easier turning off the pop-out letter option and just having the letter highlight.

i type pretty well on the pb, but if you want it to seeem more like the s2 or standard bb then just hold it in portrait display mode and it makes the keyboard more compact like the s2. autocorrect would certainly be a welcomed addition tho

still time to fix this, with it still being an infant in the market there is time to issue a correction and reverse the keys to match, no wonder I can type faster on my Torch :D

I never use the caps key on my Bold 9650. I just hold the letter key down to make the letter a capital, and that is how I would prefer to do that on a PlayBook (not bought one yet).

What I think would be even better is for that company that makes the optimized virtual keyboard to make a version for the PlayBook. Give people more than one choice.

I agree with all the preceding comments, including having the PB keyboard behave like the device keyboards. One element that has not come up, and which I truly miss is the "123sym" key, which in reality is the "alt" on the phones, disengaging after typing a symbol, instead of having to press it again to get the letters back.

Douglas, please read this... :)

[undo] button/function would be quite useful too for those accidental typing mistakes. ie, select all and delete

Don't have a playbook yet, but man some of the entries on the autocorrectfail website are funnnny! A nice dose of levity to get through a slow Thursday afternoon.

As a virtual-only keyboard user (original Storm 9530, now Storm2 9550, next ?????), I find the PB keyboard indeed a bit awkward. Beyond the so far posted differences to "normal" BB virtual keyboards, there is also the automatic num lock -- I use a complex password combining letters and numbers...it's bothersome to have to hit num lock after I've typed the numbers within passwords (when they are followed by letters). Also, as a Storm user, I keep finding myself swiping down the PB keyboard and expecting it to hide!

First off, hate on screen tying.
With that said i find the portrait keyboard to be more than acceptable. I do hate the switched caps and alt keys though

I returned my Playbook because I wanted the same BB features in a larger form of BB. The autotext/word substitution is the SINGLE most important feature I wanted, and it's keeping me with Blackberry, despite the fabulous features that the Droids and iPhones have. I so very much wanted the Playbook and read Crackberry every day for months until it came out, but stopped reading it a few weeks ago until tonight when I thought I'd see what's happening. I'd buy the Playbook again if I could use it with those features. Help!

AMEN!!! As O type this on my PlayBook and wish for the features from my phone, I am getting faster every day on the PB keyboard with more and more use. I do find myself having to stop and look more at my fingers where I almost never look at my phone at all when I type. But love this post and I really hope RIM is reading this one above all others.

I saw in screenshoot that os 7 will have the same keyboard layout of Playbook.
And I think that the new layout is better.

does anyone else hit "n" a lot instead of the spacebar? I've owned almost every physical qwerty BlackBerry since the Pearl 8100, and the PlayBook was my first touchscreen device. I was typing on my friend's torch the other day using the touch screen, and I typed perfectly, but the PlayBook, after having it for about a month, still takes some getting used to. the BlackBerry keyboards have spoiled me, and I can't wait for the 9900, but I'd like to get good on my PlayBook because I love it so much!

does anyone else hit "n" a lot instead of the spacebar? I've owned almost every physical qwerty BlackBerry since the Pearl 8100, and the PlayBook was my first touchscreen device. I was typing on my friend's torch the other day using the touch screen, and I typed perfectly, but the PlayBook, after having it for about a month, still takes some getting used to. the BlackBerry keyboards have spoiled me, and I can't wait for the 9900, but I'd like to get good on my PlayBook because I love it so much!

I find myself frequently missing the "a" key and pressing the left shift instead on the PlayBook. I do it several times a day. And although it is a little more of a reach to type in landscape, I find that I'm more accurate. Even though that's when I press the the left shift by mistake lol...

Just wanted to say I constantly hit double space and type "wel" & "il" and get mad Outlook doesn't fix it. lol

Same here. Worst for me is words I've added to my custom auto correct dictionary on my BB and keep expecting them to work on the PB. And when they do in a bridged app like BBM then don't in the rest of the PB I'm always making typos.

Here's another thing: When I try to introduce a user-name and password into some app (say gmail) the keyboard disappears while trying to type in these IDs, and often introduces letters/numbers I didn't touch. It took me tens of attempts to log into gmail because of this strange behavior. Have others experienced this or do I have a defective unit?