The BlackBerry Classic is both a distraction and a step backwards

The BlackBerry Classic is a device that many people are waiting for. It is the first new BlackBerry phone in over over three years to include the ‘toolbelt’ row of buttons across the middle. For anyone looking forwards to this phone, they are soon to be very disappointed.

classicBlackBerry 10 is very different from the old BlackBerry OS (and that is a good thing). With 2015 just around the corner, there is no longer any utility to be gained from the buttons that the toolbelt adds to the phone. Let’s address them one at a time.

First up is the send/call key. Even on BBOS this key did very little, and was only used for answering or starting phone calls. Five years ago when I got my first BlackBerry there was little use for this key, and given that next to nobody makes phone calls these days, this key is even more useless.

Next up is the menu key, which is arguably the most useful of the toolbelt keys. Having a physical menu key allows the screen to remain clear of any navigation, and makes it quick and easy for the menu to be accessed at any time. For most apps I expect this key to be equivalent to hitting the ‘more’ button on the action menu. However as both Cascades and Android based apps have had to exist for a few years now without any guarantee of a physical menu button, most apps will already be showing a virtual menu button on the screen anyhow.

The back button is in a similar situation of the menu key in that it was a solid idea, but given the current state of app development has become redundant to an on-screen back button that is now unlikely to go away. Given that BlackBerry 10 didn’t replicate the iOS/Android mistake of placing these controls on the top of the screen, they can be easily accessed without the hardware buttons.

The final key is the end button which is used for ending phone calls and exiting to the homescreen. My guess is that BlackBerry will just map this to be equivalent to the swipe-up gesture, not adding any new functionality.

Of course the real excitement over the BlackBerry Classic is the return of the trackpad. This is also going to be the phone’s largest disappointment. The trackpad will be great at text selection, but anyone expecting to use the pad for app navigation is going to be disappointed. BlackBerry will probably support the trackpad well on the homescreen and in the hub, but there will be next to no support when it comes to third party apps.

Even back on BBOS having to support navigation via the trackpad was always a pain for developers as opposed to using the touchscreen. Given the popularity of the Curve series of phones, developers relented because they had no other way to support these phones. The trackpad was then often supported on the Torch 9800 and Bold 9900 series because the work had been done already. On BlackBerry 10 that is not the case. With every phone supporting a touch screen, adding support for navigation via the track-pad is not required and many developers (including myself) will have no interest in adding this. Developers have already spent two years writing Cascades apps that were not designed with the trackpad in mind, and any Android-based apps are definitely not going to support trackpad navigation.

The most anticipated feature of the BlackBerry Classic, will be one that the users will mostly not have the opportunity to use.