From the must have device for businessmen the world over to the “on again off again are they dead or aren't they” devices of today, BlackBerry are a household name. But what happened to the mobiles that were once best sellers? With the upcoming launch of the BlackBerry KeyOne we're taking a look at what happened to BlackBerry, and what the outlook is for these once desirable devices…
A History Lesson
Strangely enough, BlackBerry were originally a Canadian company, founded in 1985 and then known as Research in Motion Limited. Initially, the company worked with Ericsson producing pagers, two way pagers that is, meaning you could send messages back and forth. It wasn't until 2002 that the company released the BlackBerry 5810, the first pager with calling capabilities, which was, in essence, a smart phone. Follow this up in 2003 with the first colour screen BlackBerry (the 7210), and you're looking at something that more or less could pass for a modern mobile.
From the start, BlackBerry had a few key selling points. The first was a physical keyboard. A full QWERTY keyboard was somewhat of a rarity at the time, not because we all had touch screens, but because most mobiles relied on numberpad keyboards (where you pressed a key once to get A, twice for B, etc). Obviously this was a huge convenience, but also a necessity, since another key selling point of BlackBerrys was their messaging capabilities. Instant messaging was relatively new, and BlackBerry cashed in on the fact that we all wanted to talk to each other without, well, actually talking. Finally, they produced their own operating systems. Unlike Android or iOS, BlackBerry made and utilised only their own RIM system, and for many, that was a good thing.
Top of Their Game
By 2007, BlackBerry had become the most valuable company on the Canadian stock market, and phones were selling like hot cakes. By 2009, they were second on the mobile market, beaten out only by Nokia. By 2010, BlackBerry boasted over 40 million users and shipped their 100 millionth mobile phone. With the 8800, Curve and Storm series, BlackBerrys were the must have devices, particularly for businessmen, thanks to their productivity software and compatibility with office programmes. Featured in movies and on TV (thanks Sex in the City), and spotted in the hands of celebrities across the globe from the US president to Oprah Winfrey to dozens of boy band-ers, BlackBerry could do no wrong. Or could they?
The Fall of BlackBerry
Arguably, BlackBerry's fall from grace began in 2007 with the release of the first iPhone. Then in 2011, the media touted the role of BlackBerrys in planning riots that swept the UK during the summer, culminating in a wave of service outages that autumn. The following year, the original company founders (Lazaridis and Balsillie) stepped down, and critical updates to BlackBerrys were skipped. The new RIM 10 operating system was delayed, then delayed again. At the beginning of 2013 BlackBerry released the Q10 and Z10 models, considered by many to be the last “real” BlackBerry devices, though they were far from popular.
By August of 2013, with hundreds of thousands of unsold Q10s and Z10s still on shelves, the company announced its intentions to sell. But surprisingly, 2014 marked an uptick in profits with the release of the BlackBerry Classic. However, the number of BlackBerry users had now halved compared to their peak user base in 2009. Nowadays, BlackBerrys make up only 0.2% of the mobile market. And despite several times announcing that they were no longer going to produce consumer handsets, BlackBerry do continue to make mobiles, though sparingly. In late 2016 BlackBerry announced that they were focussing more on business to business communications, rather than consumer products.
So What Happened?
There were obviously plenty of reasons for BlackBerry's fall from grace. Not least of these was the release of the iPhone in 2007, which changed the way we saw mobile phones. With their reliance on full keyboard devices, BlackBerry fell behind in the touch screen market, and by the time they released their first fully touchscreened device, it was too late to catch up. It's true that many users loved their BlackBerrys for that keyboard, and the company was looking to please its existing users, but they stopped impressing the increasingly important younger market.
Then there was the doomed PlayBook tablet experiment, which sucked not only money out of the company, but also severely disappointed users. The PlayBook was half a victim of the delays in releasing RIM 10, but was also badly designed, and lacked even an email client (unthinkable in a mobile computing solution). This was BlackBerry's first real flop, and a sign that the seemingly perfect company wasn't always on top of their game.
Add in a growing lack of compatibility, and even existing BlackBerry users were beginning to get disgruntled. By locking down their operating system, BlackBerry ensured that their users would have no access to increasingly popular apps like WhatsApp, leading users to choose the more customisable (and therefore more useful) Android option instead. The bottom line for BlackBerry was that the world changed, but they didn't, and that inability to keep up with consumer tastes and needs was the real death knell for the company as it was.
BlackBerry is far from dead, as the release of the new KeyOne proves. However, they are falling more and more into the niche market. There's certainly a small market for full keyboard phones, and one that BlackBerrys will continue to appeal to. And to be fair, the octo core processing power and 3 GB of RAM we're seeing on the KeyOne means that it can more than keep up with the upper end of the Android market in terms of performance. One thing that BlackBerry can't do, however, is regain the coolness factor that it had in the mid 2000s. And for modern consumers, it's that coolness factor that's important. BlackBerrys are marked with the stigma of failure, and that's just not cool. Whilst the company will continue to produce mobile handsets, at least for the foreseeable future, it's highly unlikely that they'll ever again be the must have devices of yesteryear. On the other hand, if you're looking for a decent phone with a full keyboard, BlackBerrys remain your only sensible option…