The revelation that BlackBerry handsets would virtually stop working earlier this week sparked an outpouring of nostalgia – not just in the mobile industry, but around the globe.
It’s unusual for the closure of ageing, largely abandoned technology service (in this case, BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS)) to be the subject of newspaper headlines, television reports, and social media discussions, but the outpouring demonstrated the depth of affection for BlackBerry’s iconic devices.
Swedish House Mafia and Tinie Tempah even made a point of playing a song about a ‘Bold BB’ on BBC Radio 1, demonstrating the crossover popularity of mobile phones that were originally built for CEOs and office employees.
Appeal to a wide range of people
The fact that the devices were built for business users only added to their attraction, and the associated price tag made them aspirational products in the late 2000s, but BlackBerrys were the first proof for many people that mobile phones could be used for more than just making calls and texting.
BlackBerry provided email, instant chat, and physical keyboards, which were previously only available on PCs. Furthermore, during a time when data plans were often not included in standard contracts, BIS allowed for unlimited data consumption. BlackBerrys were an appealing combination of functionality and status.
Many of the retrospectives have looked at the influence of BlackBerry smartphones in the same way that the industry could look back on the Nokia 3310, Motorola RAZR, or the original iPhone.
BlackBerry’s impact on mobility and enterprise IT, on the other hand, is significantly broader. Its software and security capabilities, as well as its contributions to industry-standard patents and device development, are still significant today.
BlackBerry began in 1984 as Research in Motion (RIM), a corporation founded by two engineering students, Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin, in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. RIM swiftly established itself in the realms of wireless communication and electronic messaging, developing the world’s first two-way pager, corporate email-accessing devices, and, finally, a smartphone.
We’ve all been accustomed to flexible working after two decades of technology advancement, three generations of mobile connectivity, and one pandemic. At the turn of the century, however, the ability to securely access email from any location and respond using a QWERTY keyboard rather than an alphanumeric pad was genuinely groundbreaking for entrepreneurs.
Even for individuals with access to laptops, the behind-the-scenes features of BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) made this viable in an era when IT was still dominated by desktops and perimeter-based security. BES was able to manage devices, identify users, and protect data transmission outside of the workplace, ensuring that the new freedoms did not come at the expense of security.
BlackBerry was a highly coveted gadget with consumer appeal because to its functionality, design, and pricing. RIM reacted by guaranteeing that its most recent devices have cameras and by updating the BlackBerry OS numerous times over the course of its existence. For its unlimited chatting and media features that went beyond SMS, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) became one of the most important selling aspects. BBM PINs were originally considered a status symbol.
BlackBerry showed no signs of slowing down even as Apple and Google prepared the first iPhone and Android handsets in 2007, growing sales and market share. Even as recently as 2011, a four-day outage of BlackBerry’s infrastructure that knocked BBM offline made international headlines. The business was clinging to life, but the signals of its demise were beginning to show. BlackBerry OS was created for a different era of mobile, when hardware and networking standards were more basic. BlackBerry OS and related devices grew more obsolete as mobile technology evolved and cellular networks got more powerful in the 4G era.
Efforts to stay competitive in the market were fruitless. The touchscreen BlackBerry Storm was a disappointment, and while critics praised BlackBerry 10, it was frequently delayed and debuted far too late in 2013. BlackBerry simply lacked the necessary mass to sustain developer interest in a mobile environment increasingly dominated by app ecosystems.
BlackBerry’s user base peaked at 85 million in 2013, and many enterprises still value its security and management capabilities. Consumers, on the other hand, were slipping away, and many employees now wanted to use the same technology at work as they did at home, despite many of the BlackBerry handset’s flaws and IT’s constraints.
BlackBerry’s security advantage was gradually undermined by Apple, Samsung, and Google, and the advent of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement was perhaps the final nail in the company’s device ambition coffin.
Following that, there was a name change (from RIM to BlackBerry), layoffs, and a shift in focus from devices to services. Downsizing has resulted in a smaller, more focused, and financially secure organisation that will continue to service the industry while maximising the value of its patent portfolio. Before deciding to call it a day in 2016, the business did produce some new products to serve its ardent fans. Since then, the only BlackBerry smartphones sold have been built under licence by third parties.
It’s tempting to imagine what might have occurred if BlackBerry 10 had been released a few years earlier, or if BBM had gone cross-platform before Facebook and WhatsApp monopolised the mobile messaging industry. However, the company’s mobile infrastructure being turned off is a good time to reflect on BlackBerry’s legacy in mobility. It aided the convergence of the mobile and IT industries, laying the groundwork for flexible working, and forcing other providers to follow suit.
BlackBerry is working on security and management platforms for a mobile-driven world of IT that also encompasses burgeoning industries like the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected cars, similar to how Nokia has expanded into telecoms infrastructure.
The worlds of business mobility and BlackBerry have both moved on to greener pastures, and an important chapter in the industry’s history has come to a close.
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