This week RIM unveiled the next generation BlackBerry device, called the Torch. This new device features a capacitive touch screen and an updated BlackBerry 6 operating system that includes multi-touch. The gestures available to the BlackBerry are already familiar to iPhone and Android users and include:

  • Tap
  • Swipe
  • Pinch Zoom
  • Press and Hold

The most interesting of these gestures is press and hold. When this gesture is performed, a contextual “pop-up menu” appears. This feature is available at the system level and within applications and it seems pretty handy. In the example below, the user has brought up the pop-up menu for an image in their photo library.

BlackBerry 6 Contextual Menu

BlackBerry 6 - Press and hold to bring up the "pop-up" contextual menu.

Here’s what RIM has to say about pop-up menus:

  • Pop-up menus update to reflect options available depending on the task at hand.
  • To invoke pop-up menus, tap and hold the screen, for example an application icon.
  • Pop-up menus are available in almost every application.

Swipe Gesture – Sweat the small stuff

I had the opportunity to play with a Torch about a week before its official announcement and at the time I noticed something strange about the swipe gesture. Like the iPhone and Android, you can swipe left to right or up and down to scroll or move between screens. However, some subtleties seem to have been missed by RIM. Take a look at the video below.

Notice anything strange? When an app icon or a list item is touched, it highlights to indicate to the user that the item has been selected or, in the case of an app, that it is going to launch. So far, so good. The problem is that the highlight feedback is provided not only when the user taps, but also when the user swipes. This is wrong. The highlight state should be suppressed during a swipe gesture so that users don’t think they have mistakenly selected something. BlackBerry either missed this subtlety when copying the iPhone UI or they didn’t think it was that important. Either way, these are the sort of little details that make the iPhone such a satisfying experience and its competitors… less so. I actually thought it was a pre-production bug, but based on RIM’s videos, it looks like this “bug” will be in shipping products. Too bad.

It’s better, but is it better enough?

I’m happy to see RIM taking a step in the right direction by incorporating multi-touch and generally modernizing their OS. Pop-ups look to be a useful little feature for app developers and users. However, RIM will need to pay closer attention to the little details of multi-touch UI if they are going to remain competitive with the likes of Apple and Google. I anxiously await BlackBerry 6.1.