Thinking about how your phone's touchscreen operates, you might assume that the so-called optical pads that have been making appearances on recent BlackBerrys (among other devices) operate in a similar fashion -- but you'd be wrong. RIM's official BlackBerry blog is chiming in today to drop some knowledge on us dullards, and it turns out that "optical" isn't just a cute nickname -- the pads do actually operate in much the same way as modern desktop mice, using a low-res infrared camera to capture movement across the surface and translate it into movement. In practical terms, what this means is that you don't need a conductive surface to operate the pad -- you can use pretty much anything that the sensor can see, so a gloved hand (for instance) is theoretically good to go. That being said, don't expect to be snapping photos with your "camera" any time soon -- we're literally talking about a handful of grayscale pixels here, which should make it only marginally better than the Droid's cam.

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RIM's optical trackpads: they weren't joking about the 'optical' part