Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Palm Pre's Missing Menu Key and Why the Center Button Should Be a Trackball

I've gotten used to the Palm Pre's keyboard pretty quickly but the one thing that I do miss the most from the Treo 680 and T-Mobile G1 is the "Menu" key. There are several ways of accessing menus on the Pre. You can tap on the upper left hand corner. And in a fairly ingenious use of the Pre's gesture area, you can tap and hold the gesture area and use it to select keyboard shortcuts like "Cut," "Copy," and "Paste." But these workarounds are just that, workarounds. Tapping on the upper left hand corner is not as easy as just hitting a dedicated Menu key.

And it's not like there is not enough room on the keyboard for one more key. The area which slides out to reveal the Pre's keyboard is about the same size as Treo 680's keyboard and has plenty of empty space which holds no keys. A single key would have gone a long way towards making the Pre's kebyboard a lot more comfortable.

Now about the center button. As far as buttons go, it's a pretty cool one. It lights up when you touch the gesture area and it makes it moves your open applications into card mode so you can easily switch between them—like Microsoft's "alt+tab" key combination. But from another perspective, it's pretty useless. Card mode can be invoked by merely swiping up from the gesture area which eliminates the need for the center button. And while the visual cue of the center button lighting up is useful, you don't really need a button for that. In fact depending on where you touch gesture area, a circle immediately to the left or right of the center button lights up at the same time it does.

What this all adds up to is the idea that the center button in its current form is not really needed for operating the Pre. So other than the fact that it looks cool, why is it there? I can't think of a reason. Now if it were possible to control the position of the cursor on the screen the way the trackball on the G1 does, then the center button would be truly useful. While the Pre does have a "trackball mode" where swipes on the screen can control the position of the cursor while the Pre's orange button is held down, this method takes practice to learn and master while a physical trackball would more intuitive.

I've also seen suggestions online about having the center button light up with alarms. I like this idea. Treos have always had blinking LEDs and since the Pre's center button can light up anyway, it should be fairly easy to replicate this functionality.

1 comment:

Mikemick said...

The reason why the center button is there is because the gesture area is a new concept. Taking away all buttons on the face of a phone might seem scary for people looking to purchase the phone that aren't accustomed to gestures. I look at it as sort of a hybrid device. It is blending the old (what everyones comfortable with) with the new. Eventually I think the center button will be phased out in future devices, especially since gestures have worked so well.