ah, the button. the good old fashioned clack of a keyboard. the satisfying click of a light switch. the well worn surface of the TV remote. the button, as much as we love it, is a dying breed — but blackberry isn’t content to let the poor boy go just yet. at CES this year the one-time rival to apple announced its intention to resurrect the QWERTY keyboard with its blackberry ‘mercury’ — a brave move among a sea of touch screens devices and voice controlled robots. but will the risk pay off, or will the faithful button be returned once more to the cold earth of the smartphone graveyard?

blackberry mercury
blackberry are banking on more than just sentimentality
image © blackberry



blackberry’s banking on more than just sentimentality here — there’s still a devoted pool of consumers who are adamant in their use of keys over pixels. they’re a group that’s been shoved to the sidelines in recent years, certainly, but the market still exists — and currently, it’s a market that blackberry dominates. with virtually no competitors in the world of mobile keyboards, blackberry has secured a unique chance to buck the status quo and prove that their way of doing things still works. the phone understandably has more than a bit of mystery attached to it, but is the shady reveal an admission of embarrassment by the company or do they actually have something up their sleeve?

the one-time rival to apple announced its intention to resurrect the QWERTY keyboard at this year’s CES
image © blackberry



the unit is currently only known by its internet codename: ‘mercury’. with technical specifications and internal software yet to be released, there’s a lot we don’t know (the whole sheet is slated to be revealed during february’s mobile world congress). for now, the mercury will be manufactured by blackberry alongside partners TCL, following the company’s recent decision to release android phones under the blackberry name — but this won’t be a watered down version of the golden great. blackberry intends the mercury to stand alongside the upcoming releases of major competitors like apple and samsung. whether or not it’ll hold its own remains to be seen, but we’re more excited to see the button loving brigade of blackberry devotees the release is almost certain to coax out of hiding. and who knows? maybe the button is having a renaissance. 

a team from the technische universität berlin have devised a way to create tactile, temporary buttons
image courtesy of jörg müller



according to a report by engadget, a team from the technische universität berlin has devised a way to create tactile, temporary buttons that can speak to and operate with any touchscreen display. the ‘gel-touch’ prototype is made from a heat-activated fluid gel that hardens when warmed. when applied to a touch screen, the substance carries an electrical current, hardening the ‘button’ and prompting a response from the display. still harbouring its fair share of kinks, the technology nevertheless suggests an antidote to the touch screen epidemic of recent years. in practice, the researchers see the ‘gel-touch’ coming in handy in circumstances where looking at a screen isn’t always possible — driving a car for example. for mobile users, the idea represents a glimpse of hope for the future of buttons: having a keyboard may soon be as easy as making one yourself. 

when applied to a touch screen, the substance carries an electrical current
image courtesy of jörg müller



of course if all this seems like too much trouble, you could always try to get your hands on one of the bizarre, ryan seacrest-backed ‘typo’ iPhone cases. for a brief period in 2015, button-mashers could purchase the celebrity-funded case for a neat $99 dollars, effectively turning their apple devices into a kind of rough-and-ready blackberry frankenstein. the short lived accessory was swiftly shut down by a flurry of blackberry lawsuits however, and has now ceased distribution worldwide (it’s successor, typo 2, is strangely still available). but the popularity of the gadget and the legal rumpus it caused speaks to a wider desire for things we can touch. just look at the popularity in keyboard accessories for tablets, or even microsoft’s hands-on surface dial tool for the surface pro studio

button-mashers could purchase the celebrity-backed case for a neat $99 dollars



there is something inexplicably satisfying about interacting with something that just physically exists, that affords us a level of control yet to be replicated in the digital realm — and companies know this. at CES this year, bosch imagined a gesture controlled automobile with instant tangible feedback. bristol-based firm ultrahaptics debuted invisible buttons you can touch, but can’t see. haptic feedback is pretty much everywhere. so maybe the button isn’t dying out after all. perhaps it’s just having a ‘chrysalis’ moment. what with all these replacements jostling to take its place, maybe the humble blackberry is just the thing to remind us of our tactile past. personally, we can’t wait to see the beautiful beautiful button-clad butterfly that it becomes. 

bosch’s CES announced concept car includes a gesture controlled display with immediate tangible feedback
image © bosch