New BlackBerry patent shows ‘shrinking’ keyboard

New BlackBerry patent shows ‘shrinking’ keyboard

BlackBerry has been battling between appealing to its long-term fans who value a physical keyboard and keeping up with its rivals who provide touch-screen devices to professionals.

Now the Canadian company has filed for a patent that could provide the best of both worlds.

The filings with the US Patent Application Office aim to secure the rights to a new technology that would conceal a concertina-like keyboards within their smartphones.

In the past flip, slide and twist mechanisms have been used to conceal physical keys, but often the measures make the devices bulkier to carry around, which is a problem for business users who do not want to be carrying heavy devices with them wherever they go.

The new BlackBerry technologies would solve that problem, by enabling the keys to flip edge side on so that they could pivot into place as the user pulls out a retractable section at the bottom of the device.

US Patent Application 20130033431 describes how this would work, while U.S. Patent Application 20130033432 details the expandable casing such a keyboard would be housed in.

According to the patent application: "In addition to traditional numerical keypads used for dialling a telephone number, next generation smart phones and mobile computing devices for example may also include additional interfaces such as touch screen or form factor QWERTY keypads to facilitate text messaging, e-mailing, web browsing and other functions.

"One such configuration may be the so-called slider phone that includes a sliding cover that may be opened to expose the additional keyboard for increased text input functionality. In devices like this (or with other folding or clamshell style devices), a significant amount of internal device real estate is reserved to accommodate the keypad and associated mechanism.

"This in turn results in a larger or thicker housing that is not as desirable as a thinner, albeit less functional, alternative."

The application also describes a smartphone that has pivoting keys, with their narrow edges becoming available to type in the closed configuration and their full faces revealed when the device is opened up.

BlackBerry recently launched two new smartphones, with the Z10 and Q10 the first models off the production line since the launch of BB10. More are expected later this year.