BlackBerry smartphones on a table during a "BlackBerry Brunch" in June in Berlin.
Timur Emek/Getty Images
Last week, BlackBerry
sign after many years of decline. The once revolutionary BlackBerry was
the first smartphone addiction for so many Americans — you were
connected all the time! — and even when iPhone ushered in a slimmer,
sleeker, faster era, a few holdouts (many on Capitol Hill) continued to
stubbornly keep a BlackBerry in their pockets.
back, it's clear BlackBerry devices began to lose consumers more than
half a decade ago. That's when the iPhone's touch screen became the user
interface de rigueur and the Blackberry, with its keyboard and buttons,
became almost instantly outdated.
which started as banks of switches, sprouted keyboards (banks of
buttons with letters on them). We used buttons to select television
shows to watch and pushed buttons to order soft drinks from vending
machines. Then came the BlackBerry, which bristled with buttons.
then, with the iPhone, everything changed. As a descendant of both the
computer and the phone, Apple's superproduct had a big button at the
bottom, plus a switch at the top and some tiny little controls. You
could even argue that the entire screen is a button of sorts. The point,
though, is that we didn't need to rely on just buttons anymore; we
could tap, drag and pinch to operate the phone. The moment Steve Jobs
took the stage at Macworld 2007 and brandished his nifty little device,
the button was on notice. Fingers, with touchscreens, became the new
So it goes with technology. The
switch gave way to the button, the button gave way to a touch screen,
and soon, touching screens may seem old-school: Gesture and voice
control are the "waves" of the future.
Was the Clapper ("Clap on...Clap off...") was way ahead of it's time?
The newest smartphones are abandoning both physical and on-screen
buttons in favor of gestures. "[S]crolling, swiping, tapping, pinching,
flicking — are becoming the dominant form of the smartphone user
As with so much behavior change ushered in by
technology, the change happens before we take wider notice. But in cars,
those physical buttons have been disappearing; gaming turned to wave
commands with Xbox Kinect years ago; and button-cluttered remote
controls are giving way to smartphone controls. Microsoft's latest
operating system, Windows 8, is flat and without button icons to click.
Google Glass, the revolutionary spectacle-computer, is largely
controlled with voice commands. And with each new phone, , the range of gesture commands to interface with it is increasing.
creates challenges for user interface designers, who still have a ways
to go to understand which gesture commands are likely to be both precise
and natural enough for wide user adoption. Reviews for Leap Motion, a
new device that turns gestures into digital commands, . But the technological shift is afoot. Already, buttons seem passe.