When someone says BlackBerry, many things can come to mind, but one of those things will probably be the scroll wheel. One of the BlackBerry’s most distinguishing characteristics has been effectively axed by RIM in favor of a new, Sidekick III-styled scroll ball. We thought it would be prudent to tell you why this happened, and why it’s probably good for future BlackBerrys and RIM in general.
First off, why it happened. According to Boy Genius (who is kinda in the know, if you hadn’t heard), RIM axed the scroll wheel because it was preventing them from making slimmer devices. Considering that the form factor of smartphones is an important purchasing consideration for most consumers, and that previous BlackBerrys are kinda bulky compared to the competition, it seems like a good call.
But what about that classic scroll wheel functionality that helped to make the BlackBerry so popular? Well, we’ve talked to some of our friends who’ve had hands-on time with the Pearl and they’re positive about it. We’ve been told that placing the scroll ball in the center of the device makes the whole one-handed BlackBerry thing much easier (you could do it pretty well before if you had a dexterous index finger, but the Pearl’s “thumb only” solution seems better).
We’ve also heard from our spies on the inside that the scroll ball allows for not only better control, but different types of control as well. While horizontal scrolling seems pretty obvious (and a big boon for web browsing), the scroll balls’ 360-degree rolling ability could make the BlackBerry a killer gaming device. The old scroll wheel always made game controls on BlackBerry a little easier than most mobile phones, but the Pearl’s new control scheme in the hands of a good developer (like Magmic, say) could result in the type of mobile games that RIM needs if they want to make new BlackBerrys true consumer devices. If you don’t believe us, think back to all those roller ball arcade games in the 80’s and compare them to the controls of your standard mobile game — what would you rather have?
So while we’re not 100% confident that the scroll ball is a lock as the future of BlackBerry navigation, we must say that we are hopeful.