Inside the Trackpad: a BlackBerry Science Lesson

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trackpad1You might have noticed a different navigation tool on recent BlackBerry® smartphones like the BlackBerry® Curve™ 8520 smartphone and BlackBerry® Bold™ 9700 smartphone. Inside BlackBerry wanted to find out how the trackpad worked, so we went and sat down with David (Vice President of Handheld Products) and Derek (Electronics Designer) for a quick lesson.

In the most basic terms you might have heard the trackpad described as an optical mouse. “Think of your standard red-light mouse except your finger is the desk, and you’re moving the desk,” explains Derek. “So the tiny little imperfections of a desk that your mouse picks up on to navigate, it’s now replacing that with your thumb.”

To explain how this navigation process works, David tells me to picture the trackpad as “an infared video camera turned upside down.” Derek agrees and pulls up a screen shot showing a very pixelated grey-scale blob that is actually a finger (see diagram after the jump). He continues, “you have a very low resolution, very fast frame-rate camera: black and white, grey scale.” What the camera sees and registers are the gradations in your finger.

As you move your thumb across the trackpad, a special algorithm happens inside which spits out “you moved left 3 spaces” or as Derek a little more technically put it “it spits out: delta x, delta y.” Or, in diagram form, this is what is happening:

trackpaddiagram

Since the trackpad is really just snapping images and doesn’t require any kind of conductivity like a touchscreen, it means you don’t necessarily have to use your thumb or fingers. You can actually navigate around your screen using anything that has a slightly rough surface. Naturally, David and I put this to the test. We used a note book and a pen, both of which worked fine (not as good as a thumb, but in a pinch it would suffice).

That’s probably enough BlackBerry science for one day. Tune in next week for our history lesson on the trackpad when David explains the evolution of the navigation technology for BlackBerry smartphones.

About Becky Y.

As RIM's social media strategist, Becky spends much of her day following great online conversations about the BlackBerry® brand (and does some work here and there too). You will hear from her occasionally on Inside BlackBerry, but for the most part she will be behind the scenes, supporting our roster of experts in their blogging activities. Becky anticipates that she will have a lot of "Who Knew?!" moments, and hopes that our readers do too.

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  • Caspan

    So question then, as the trackpad gets dirty over time will it effect the quality of the optical sensor from reflecting properly and cause gitters and jumps?

  • Caspan

    So question then, as the trackpad gets dirty over time will it effect the quality of the optical sensor from reflecting properly and cause gitters and jumps?

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  • vaughan

    Good Article! I didn’t know it worked exactly like that, but I knew it didn’t have to be a finger or thumb. I have the click sound on my 9700 and when I walk with the phone in my jeans it’s non stop clicking. I had to turn it off.

  • vaughan

    Good Article! I didn’t know it worked exactly like that, but I knew it didn’t have to be a finger or thumb. I have the click sound on my 9700 and when I walk with the phone in my jeans it’s non stop clicking. I had to turn it off.

  • Marcin

    Blackberry Bold now use the trackball, and many users have problems with dust and pollution at the ball.

  • Marcin

    Blackberry Bold now use the trackball, and many users have problems with dust and pollution at the ball.

  • Telecomnieuws

    Nice article! I always wonder how new things work! More of these articles please?:)
    Yours Truly,

  • Telecomnieuws

    Nice article! I always wonder how new things work! More of these articles please?:)
    Yours Truly,

  • Caspan

    From what I remember the trackball was one of the most ordered part for devices with the pearl trackball. Now if they can just make the whole top layers of buttons optical so the 4 buttons and track pad are under the screen covering to protect from dust entry!

  • Caspan

    From what I remember the trackball was one of the most ordered part for devices with the pearl trackball. Now if they can just make the whole top layers of buttons optical so the 4 buttons and track pad are under the screen covering to protect from dust entry!

  • Caspan

    I'm curious to know what will happen after time with these. If it gets dirty with it gitter and bounce around if the laser cant read properly through finger grime accumulated? As well would be nice to see the whole row of buttons to the left and right get this treatment of technology and make the whole row optical. That way you can extent the screen down further over the buttons and seal the screen in better!

  • codemaker

    There are no lasers involved. This should hold up to grime much better than the trackball. Basically if it gets dirty, just wipe it off and it should work like new again.

  • Caspan

    Sorry I guess I said lasers my bad. I know you can clean it but you can clean shower doors too, have you ever seen them after a few years? I guess what I'm saying is time will tell how well these optical pads stand up to constant friction, scratches and wear and tear. Normal dirt will just wipe off of course but the gunk that will build up in the corners and hard to get to places. It will be interesting to see. Thats why I was saying if it was a flat piece of glass/screen all the way across all the buttons might make for better cleaning. IMO

  • Sam

    Yeah, I agree. Leaning how stuff works rocks:)

  • Sam

    Yeah, I agree. Leaning how stuff works rocks:)

  • Alex W

    You should try the actual unit before jumping to conclusions – there is no way anything can accumulate in the corners, and judging by the image above the actual ridges of the fingerprint are very well defined so unless you have a huge scrape across the trackpad, it should continue working. I can say this much for sure – this has a lot less potential to break than the Bold 9000 trackball, which rarely survive a year on a heavy user's device. I will give the trackball one thing and one thing only over the trackpad – it costs about $10 to replace every time… my guess is, based on the hardware price difference, trackpad will be more expensive than that.

  • Caspan

    Believe it or not I've had my hands on more of these devices then most people do and there is a silver bessel around the trackpad on all the models I have used. That's what I was meaning by buildup. Mind you most trackballs don't get gunky with finger dirt so I would guess the trackpads might not. I'm not saying by any means I think they suck or will be worse then the trackball. I love the new trackpads I'm just curious if they will withstand the test of torture we all put our devices through, because they are dependent on being able to track your finger through the surface. Just curious what it will take before that happens, how much abuse will it take before it does not track properly.

  • http://topflightllc.net/ Lionel Spearman (@lspearmanii)

    Am IR camera – that is great – so it uses temp and movement graduates as a queue – excellent. My question is what is the life of this impute device and should it fail how difficult is it to replace after failure. I know I had to replace the trackball of my last bb and the cost was minimal and even had option of colored balls.

  • Caspan

    Believe it or not I've had my hands on more of these devices then most people do and there is a silver bessel around the trackpad on all the models I have used. That's what I was meaning by buildup. Mind you most trackballs don't get gunky with finger dirt so I would guess the trackpads might not. I'm not saying by any means I think they suck or will be worse then the trackball. I love the new trackpads I'm just curious if they will withstand the test of torture we all put our devices through, because they are dependent on being able to track your finger through the surface. Just curious what it will take before that happens, how much abuse will it take before it does not track properly.

  • Caspan

    Exactly what I was asking:) just curious wondering how much of a test they put these through?

  • Shaindel

    I have bb 8520 and my trackpad works just fine until it's dim, low or no light at all.. The trackpad starts to autoscroll, always to the upper side of the screen, and it's really hard to type/read/do anything…! Does anyone know anything about that? Help me please…!

  • http://www.best-choice-tech.com/mobile-cell-phones/blackberry/how-does-the-optical-mouse-of-the-blackberry-work.html How does the optical mouse of the Blackberry work | New Cell Phone Software|Phone Drivers|Settings|Mobile Applications

    […] 24th, 2009 in Blackberry        Here is the  note on official blog on Blackberry how the trackpad or “optical mouse” that replaces the “pearls” in the new Bl… and that appear in the Curve 8520 and the Bold 9700 and is interesting because the technology works […]

  • olov

    does anyone know of any good third party task management application?

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