Mobile Spoon Presents: A Tribute To The D-Pads


D-Pads, also known as directional pads, were once mobile heroes.
They were everywhere: in phones, media players, video games, we all used them, they were invincible, but then came the iPhone, and the revolution it started turned the D-Pad into an extinct species. Today you cannot find them in any of the modern smartphones or music players.

I decided to dedicate this blog post as a tribute to our great friends, once successful partners in every smartphone, today - a sad symbol of outdated phones…


D-Pad: a flat, usually thumb-operated directional control found on nearly all modern video game console game-pads and phones, with one button on each point.

History of D-Pads

Here’s a list of some of the most famous D-Pads in the short mobile history. We all used them, yet, as you will shortly see – most of them are no longer relevant…

ATARI - The Prehistoric D-Pad:

My first encounter with the D-Pads was when my dad bought our first video games console - Atari 2600. It was beautifully designed, with decorative wood and 4 buttons.

It had 2 game-pads; the first one had an accurate joystick, which most of the games used (at least the ones I played with). The second one was quite a bizarre one: some kind of a wheel based D-Pad, only functional in specific games which were specially designed for it.


Thank you ATARI for creating this legendary icon. You can still find retro ATARI games even today, running on modern platforms such as iOS and Android.

The Classic Game-pad:

atarijoystick[2] 689px-PSX-Original-Controller 724px-PlayStation3-DualShock3

Before jumping into the mobile D-Pads, here’s another example of a classic D-Pad that is slowly dying: PlayStation, Nintendo, Xbox, PC’s – they all had versions of the classic gamepad with a D-Pad or a joystick. With newer gamepads such as Wii and Kinect – we are probably going to see more and more motion sensors at the expense of the poor old joysticks and pads.

The "Traditional" D-Pad:


Not sure if this is the official term, but for me a true D-Pad is one that has 4 arrows buttons (could be placed on the same surface, doesn’t have to be separated buttons) and an 'OK' button located in the middle.

Up to 5 years ago, you would find different variations of the D-Pad in just about every smartphone out there (except for BlackBerry which I will describe in a second). Today it’s barely there. Most of the smartphones look alike, with nothing but touch screen and a minimal set of buttons at the bottom.

Here’s a great image demonstrating how smartphones looked like before and after the iPhone:


So long D-Pad! We will always remember you!

5D Joystick:


Not my cup of tea, but there were many cellphones out there with a 5D Joystick. My biggest problem with it is that sometimes when you want to click on the middle (OK button) it accidentally moves down or up instead...

As D-Pads are no more, the joysticks are goners as well…


The Trackball:


When you say trackball it usually means BlackBerry, but trackballs existed before the BlackBerry and could have been found in many other devices out there. Still, almost all BlackBerry phones used to carry ones, and I personally found it to be one of the best navigation mechanism ever.

In addition, it always reminded me of Iron Man’s power source located in his chest. Which was another reason to like it.


Interesting enough, the first models of Android smartphones came with a trackball. The first Android model had a combination of touch only user interface along with a trackball. I think it’s because Android was created before everything turned to be touchscreen only. Today, it’s hard to find Android phones with a D-Pad.

From TrackBalls to TrackPads:

The first BlackBerry devices came with side-wheels also known as TrackWhells: D-Pads which were located at the side of the phones, like in old portable radio devices.

Few years later, RIM created the TrackBalls. They were a big success, but tiny pieces of dirt (or sand), or even oily fingers, could easily ruin them.

So RIM invented something new: Optical D-Pads, called: TrackPads. The TrackPads are using optical sensors, and give the phone a much better look, existing BlackBerry smartphones are still designed with a optical TrackPads, but don’t get too attached to them; The BlackBerry phones, as you know them, are not going to stick around for long. RIM is soon going to shift to its’ new QNX based OS (AKA: BlackBerry 10) and judging by the design of the PlayBook – new devices will not have trackpads in them.


Check Out:

History of PDAs - Part #1
History of PDAs - Part #2
History of PDAs - Part #3

iPod's Click Wheel:


Last D-Pad for this tribute is called the Click-Wheel and can be found in every “classic” iPod (no touch).

In this case, too, we are talking about an extinct species. The classic iPods will not stick around for long, and they will be replaced with touch-only iPods like the different iPod touch.

Well, that's it for today's tribute.

The D-Pads are gone. Everything is touch. You don’t need to move your cursor towards something – you just touch it. With such a simple UI navigation model, who needs directional pads?

Answer is: non one.

If you like this post, subscribe to our RSS Feed.


DaNeener said…
I believe it was Samsung with the first Optical, but I think it was on the Epix first.
Gil Bouhnick said…
Maybe, I used it for a while with the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and it's not that bad....
Anonymous said…
this is great stuff MAN.
lesleyanneyp said…
I have used the D-pads Windows power DVD player and its great skin. It was cool really.

You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog. Thanks