Most people who know me – I mean in real life, not those who "know me" via Web – refer to me as "that guy with all those phones." On any given day, I will usually be carrying at least two – usually an iPhone and an Android phone. But take a step four years into the past and I was the "BlackBerry guy." I knew almost all there was to know about BlackBerrys. I spent my free time and time I should have spent sleeping modding my BlackBerry, installing unofficial updates, creating themes and searching for new icon packages.
I've been chatting with a few different people lately about BlackBerry. Sydney is on a 30-day BlackBerry challenge and I was giving her a few pointers. Aaron and I were talking a couple days ago and were reminiscing the good ol' days of BlackBerry keyboards. And a few of my friends still carry BlackBerrys.
I miss it. My old BlackBerry, that is. I couldn't go back to using it, obviously. And I'm not even sure if the thing will turn on anymore. But we have some good memories together. I can actually remember days when I didn't care what clock speed or how many cores my phone's processor had, or how many megapixels were crammed into the image sensor.
Clearly, everything has changed. The mobile world today is all about spec wars and patent suits.
But one of the most recent trend in wireless devices is designs that reflect less is more. Well, in a way. Aside form phones growing in size, physical buttons are becoming a rarity. The iPhone, which is renowned for its minimalistic design, has a total of four buttons and a switch. And most Android phones come with at least four capacitive buttons, a power switch and a volume rocker. A handful come with a dedicated camera button. But as Google revealed with their latest Nexus device and software update, they want to kick all possible physical buttons to the curb. The Galaxy Nexus has only three total hardware buttons: a power switch and a volume rocker.
I can't say that I dislike the lack of buttons. I originally thought I would hate it, seeing as the on-screen soft buttons take up precious display space. But after a little time with them, I've grown accustomed to them and believe they're about as versatile as a button can possibly get. (If you disagree, try swapping physical buttons for displays space when you want to watch a video on your phone.)
Again, it's not that I don't like the soft buttons. But I'm having button withdrawals. Remember, I'm a BlackBerry guy – a switch to an all-touchscreen device for me a few years back was a huge step. Now I'm facing fewer buttons with every device I buy.
I'm starting to miss that raised keyboard ... terribly. Not only for the stupid speeds at which I could tap out a text message or email, but for all of the shortcuts. Despite faster processors and more efficient software, I feel like I'm endlessly tapping away at the interface to get something done or scrolling through pages upon pages of applications just to find one specific app.
With my BlackBerry, I could zip around faster on my phone than anyone. I knew the keyboard like the back of my hand and could very nearly navigate the entire phone without ever looking down. But from the home screen, there was a long list of hotkeys – triggered by one or a combination of the 40 keys on the face of the device – at my disposal and it was awesome. For example, if you enabled keyboard shortcuts, pressing the N key would launch BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), B would launch Browser, U would launch Calculator and C was a quick compose hotkey for a new SMS or email.
And it didn't end there. Shortcuts were nested deeply in the software. Within applications, pressing T would take you to the top of a list while B would take you to the bottom. The Space key scrolls one page at a time. And N and P were next and previous, respectively. Best of all, though, were copy and paste functions. To highlight text, you could hold one of the two shift keys and scroll with the trackball. Once all the text was highlighted, you could hold the alt key and press the trackball/trackpad to copy. To paste, you simply had to place the cursor in the desired location, hold the shift key and press the trackball/trackpad. And within the native BlackBerry Browser, there was yet another long list of hotkey commands, like R for refreshing the page and G to open the address bar (the "Go To…" command).
Knowing all of these shortcuts was second nature for a BlackBerry veteran and unquestionably made me faster with my BlackBerry. But keyboard shortcuts aren't the only thing I miss.
The other BlackBerry feature that made me quick with my 'Berry was AutoText (now called Word Substitution). There was a long list of pre-programmed AutoText entries. For instance, typing "ive" would automatically correct to "I've." That's hardly impressive in comparison to the predictive text and autocorrect of today. But the best part was user-defined entries and macros. I was constantly creating my own AutoText entries. I can't remember them all, but I do remember using "hwu" a lot, which I had set to correct to "Hey, what's up?" And I would program smileys, too. Typing "hiy" would change to ":-)" when I hit the space bar. And macros. When creating your own AutoText entry, you could use predefined macros that were coded into the system. As an example, "%d" would translate to a short version of the current date and "%t" would change to a shorthand timestamp. In other words, if you used set "currenttime" to translate to "%d", the outcome might look like "12:44 PM." Typing "mynumber" would change to the number programmed to the device and "mypin" would change to display the device's set PIN (for use with BBM and PIN messaging).
As you can imagine, tapping around through the interface with hotkeys and being able to type entire sentences with just a few button presses, knocking out a few simple tasks with my old 'Berry was a breeze. It's not that Android phones or the iPhone are particularly slow. They're much faster than my BlackBerry ever was. But I'm slower. I'm still fast with an iPhone or my Nexus, but it just doesn't compare to how quick I was back in the day.
Do any of you remember the good ol' days of AutoText and BlackBerry keyboard shortcuts? Do you miss them? Have you found anything comparable on iOS or Android? (If so, please share below!)