Prior to the development of the BlackBerry scrollball, the BlackBerry trackwheel (found on the stalwart BlackBerry 8700 among others) was probably the best navigation mechanic of any smartphone. It was always a wonder to me how RIM could get it right where so many others failed. RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis gives us the answer in his interview with CNET Asia.
Lazaridis: We had the first symmetric keyboard and the first real successful use of the track wheel. Other companies have tried using track wheels and they gave up. Nobody really got the ball right. The problem with the track wheel was that in the early days, the manufacturers made them very stiff. The plastic was so rigid that, no matter what you did, if it hits the ground like this, it would break and the circuit board would crack.
We have very sophisticated labs with high-speed cameras, electronic scanning microscopes and infrared fast frame rate transform scanners that we invested in a long time ago. What we found with high-speed photography was that there was no deflection in the wheel when it hit the surface. The wheel stayed totally rigid and that snapped it right off. There was no saunter joint, metal pin, nothing. It’s so hard to manufacture and that’s why most companies gave up on it because there were a few phones that had it earlier on.
What we discovered and invented was a suspension in our track wheels. The suspension is sort of like the moon buggies, and what’s interesting about it is, you can’t feel it. It’s so stiff that you don’t notice that it’s got a suspension. But high-speed photography shows that when it hits, it bends in and it doesn’t break. That lowered the breakage a hundred times. Not a 100 percent, but a hundred times. That was a very big breakthrough for the industry, but we patented the technology.
Lazaridis goes onto state that RIM was also first company to come up with USB charging. Two cool pieces of trivia about what makes BlackBerrys so special.