The Motorola Backflip doesn’t get a whole lot of press. And it’s easy to understand why; it’s not exactly svelte, its screen is a bit small, its running last year’s processor and OS version, and when you talk on it, you’ll be palming the QWERTY keyboard.
Maybe that’s why nobody’s really noticed that the Backflip includes one of the most unique navigation features to be made available on a smartphone. You’re looking at it to the left; it’s a trackpad on the back of the screen. What makes it unique? Well, for one, it’s the first 2-dimensional scrolling device that you use blind (not counting the scroll wheel on old Blackberry devices, that’s a one-dimensional scroll). Second of all, it’s a trackpad. Name another phone which has a touch screen and a completely separate touch-sensitive navigation device.
The only name that comes to mind is Apple’s future iPhone 4. It’s been strongly rumored that the back of the next iPhone will be a touch-sensitive input device.
It’s easy to dismiss the Backflip as a gimmick device. The idea of a trackpad on a touchscreen device seems superfluous at first blush.
But really, it’s more likely that Motorola is thinking about the user experience of the phone. Think about it how you would hold the Backflip when it’s open. You’ll be holding it horizontally, inputting text with the QWERTY keyboard, and your other fingers will be idly curled around the back of the phone. There’s no navigation device built into the keyboard, so to interact with the screen, you’d need to either stretch your thumb up, or unwrap one of your hands from the phone to touch the screen. With the Backflip, your index fingers are free to use the track pad to navigate. No word on whether the trackpad is set up to detect taps as well as scrolling, but it’s likely. It’s obvious that Motorola thought long and hard about how to make this phone functional, even comfortable for heavy texters.
The Backflip’s unique feature gives the iPhone rumor a little more credibility, though I could see a touch-sensitive back panel on the iPhone being awkward in portrait mode. In any case, with ideas like the reverse trackpad, it’s nice to see manufacturers looking for ways to make using smartphones more intuitive, and perhaps more human. We’ve spent years adapting our fingers and thumbs to using smartphones; now might be the time when smartphones begin to adapt to us.
The worry, of course, is that this interesting new technology is on a lackluster handset. The Backflip will sell well with the teen texting crowd, but probably won’t gain much traction in the mainstream smartphone arena. Especially if AT&T will offering it alongside the Nexus One. So what do you think? Is blind scrolling a gimmick or a real advance in human interface technology? What do you think?
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