Just Say No To Tag Lines

Windows Mobile 5 and 6, And Companies That Do Not Get SoftKeys

, posted: 8-Oct-2007 19:34

I remember being mystified when Dell released their first post-Windows Mobile 5 Axim and I saw that the hardware was essentially the same as the previous version, and they had made no provision for dedicated buttons mapped to the new SoftKey feature (you know, the one where you can control the on-screen menus with appropriately mapped hardware buttons, provided there are no more than two top-level menu items).
Well, a lot of water has flowed under a lot of bridges since then, and I've seen this omission repeated by certain Pocket PC manufacturers with depressing regularity.

When HP's most recent, WM6-equipped devices were announced I was initially quite interested...then as I read the specs and looked at the photos I came to the realisation that in HP's case at least, the omission is not just a case of a company leaving out a useful feature for reasons known only to themselves...it's a actually perfectly intentional and deliberate act of stupidity.
...Because not all HP devices lack hardware buttons for SoftKeys: one group where you'll consistently find them is anything that could be called a phone. And in anything that can't, (unless I've missed one) they are consistently absent.
So there you have it: HP actually seem to believe that SoftKeys are just for phones.
It could be worse of course - to leave out the buttons on anything with a keypad would be complete idiocy (switching between keypad and stylus is very awkward and annoying). But didn't it occur to anybody that substantial stylus-avoidance is perfectly feasible in many types of applications even with no keypad, and that where feasible many of us find it very desirable? OK, not Catherine Zeta-Jones desirable, but not to be sneezed at. I know that HP typically provide the facility to have secondary mappings for hardware buttons that are activated if you hold on for dear life until the Sun turns to a cold, dark husk, but that's not quite as convenient as dedicated buttons, is it?

It's a shame, it is.


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Comment by Pony99CA, on 8-Oct-2007 23:14

I figured that dichotomy out a while back -- phones (AKA Pocket PC Phones and Smartphones) get softkeys, dedicated PDAs (AKA Pocket PCs) don't.  However, you didn't mention that dedicated PDAs do get application buttons (although you did allude to it), something most phones lack (and even those that do have them only seem to have 2-4, counting Home and Back buttons).

However, I don't think blaming HP is exactly fair.  Do any other non-phone Pocket PCs have dedicated softkeys?

That said, I also wish that Pocket PCs had softkeys -- while keeping the application buttons, too.  Unless there's something in the Windows Mobile architecture that prevents having more than 5 buttons, it shouldn't be that hard.

However, the workaround is simple and doesn't require a stylus as you seem to imply -- just tap the softkeys on the screen with your finger!  Even the fattest fingers should be able to manage that (although they might have to use a fingernail).


Author's note by KevDaly, on 9-Oct-2007 06:59

I only mentioned HP as an example because they have a range of both types of PDA, which makes the comparison obvious.

I'm aware that you can use your fingers, but that's not a good option if you don't want grace the screen with an assortment of body oils (and to be frank, I have naturally greasy skin).

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Kevin Daly
New Zealand