I hold Blackberry close to my heart. I accepted my first real job offer on a Blackberry. I read the words “I love you” for the first time ever, in a Blackberry messenger message. I took to obsessively taking photos of food on a Blackberry. I got addicted to twitter on a Blackberry. The list goes on … I broke up with Blackberrys a while back. But, as with any other past relationship, I never meant ill.
If there ever was a company that I did not want to fail, it was Blackberry.
Research in Motion (RIM) - the erstwhile name of the Canadian company that made Blackberrys - gave the world the concept of a smart phone. Their centralized blackberry services - were brilliant - push email, push messaging, push everything - everything you did flowed through magical blackberry servers that ensured end-to-end delivery. Except when they went down, of course. Everyone knows that a single point of failure (SPOF), will fail. Its not a matter of if, its just a matter of when. However, it wasn’t this flawed architecture that screwed them over, they just stopped doing what they were supposed to do, build phones that the market wanted. Blackberry/RIM’s history happened in 5 eras (including the currently unfolding).
This is was RIM’s break into the market. Wait, the market did not exist - they created it. They arrived in a market that was dominated by what we now call “dumb” phones - that did nothing more than make calls and facilitate texts - in old school T9 form (if you had a T9 capable phone that is). RIM defined what a smart phone was. They put email in your pocket. They packed a practically unheard of full size QWERTY keyboard - a miniature form of what computer keyboards are - and kept busy professionals connected on the go. Smartphones were limited to the elite few, busy top level executives. The devices were mostly black and white, and had a scroll wheel on the side which facilitated, you guessed it, scrolling. Color screens crept in at some point and RIM was on top.
This was where I bought in. The scroll balls were as reliable as trying to turn the pages of a book with your nose. They worked, when they were clean (aka new). But failed soon after - as all the grime and dirt from your fingers got rolled up in it, they simply stopped scrolling. Replacing it was a walk in the park for any BlackBerry owner of that era and replacement balls sold in the plentiful online - in varied colors too. RIM was starting to make the transition from a business focussed device to a consumer device that was “cool” for a teenager to own. The shift was mainly instigated by the release of the iPhone in 2007. Facebook and Twitter integration followed. And google went all out to make a slew of BB versions of their popular applications - maps, search, contact sync, gmail and youtube even.
Touch Trackpad Era
It was late 2009, Apple and Android manufacturers were capturing people’s imaginations by building devices that were completely touch driven, with no physical keyboard. RIM was still making full qwerty devices with no touch ability. Their lame crossover was a little trackpad - that moved a cursor across the screen. Granted it was way more reliable than moving a little ball, it was not the most user friendly experience. RIM made an effort to continue making their way into consumer pockets by putting a competitive camera sensor that took comparable photos to say the iPhones and Androids of the time - but the screen was too small to show off your photos. OS version 5 came out, and focused on media and social integration. They introduced an app store - which encouraged developers to make apps for the platform, trying to emulate what iOS and Android had done. Needless to say, it was lackluster.
The black sheep of the BlackBerry family - The BlackBerry Storm
The storm was introduced at a time when touch friendly devices had proven their place in the market. People got used to typing on a virtual keyboard and did not care much for the physical full keyboard. The storm dropped the beloved full keyboard that Blackberrys touted up until then and promised to be the iPhone killer. Except, it was flawed. The OS was not meant to be touch friendly. The device did not have an intended audience - it was lost between the consumer and professional markets. The consumer market had many, arguably better choices in the iPhone/Android stable. And the professional market did not want to let go of the physical keyboard. And did I mention, the entire touch screen moved? Yes. In one of the most horrendous decisions that RIM has ever made, the storm packed a touch screen that actually, physically moved in and out to simulate typing on a physical keyboard. Click response included. Take it from me, if you did not experience it, you missed nothing.
Full Touch Screen [that did not move] Era
RIM finally did it. Adopted and accepted the gesture of pointing with a finger. They held onto the physical keyboard though. Making a device that was even more lost in its identity. I used a BlackBerry 9900 for 3 days and it drove me nuts. I did not know if I should be touching, typing or clicking. The OS (version 6, I believe) was still far from touch screen friendly. The devices were vastly underpowered and lost developer support - thereby resulting in a diluted app store with almost no offering of replacement apps for someone contemplating the app-rich platforms of Android or iOS.
It was make or break. They renamed their company to take on the Blackberry name. But everyone knew they had no lives left. They had to put out something absolutely marvelous. The new OS looked fresh. But it was too little too late. Completely redesigned as a touch friendly OS from the ground up, it had the chance to compete. But like their friends across the pond, Nokia, they needed something magical to save them. Less than magical were the Z10 and Q10. By themselves, they were pretty good. But not good enough to win back hearts that had departed for iOS and Android. Its always harder to get back with someone you have had history with, especially when the relationship did not end well - and that was Blackberry’s problem.
The Q10 and the Z10 are world-class phones that deserve recognition. From whom, I do not know. They present valiant efforts on Blackberry’s part.
T-Mobile USA recently announced that their retail stores are going to cease carrying Blackberrys - the only way to get it would be to order online. The other 3 major carriers in the US will no doubt follow soon. The end is in sight. Not even a miracle can save Blackberry.
Its only human to be in cognitive denial - when something bad is about to happen. I am going to say the following words with hope, the slightest hope that in a few years I can take these words back and look like a complete fool. But for now …
Rest in Peace Blackberry. Rest in Peace.