BlackBerry is still one of the most noted mobile network and handset manufacturers in the world. However, their decline in the last few years has been almost alarming. Today, I’m going to take a look at the rise and fall of the company as someone who has been very much reliant on much of BlackBerry’s technology in my years as an IT consultant and commercial accounts director.
When confronted by the first ever Blackberry – the RIM 900 Inter@ctive Pager, launched in 1996 – it’s strange to see how little has actually changed. The screen is, of course, more primitive (more Gameboy than Tablet). However, the black materials used and the slanted keypad could have come from even the very latest BlackBerry handsets.
It’s surprising, in a way, that it took a full ten years for the ‘CrackBerry’ craze to take off. In the intervening decade, the company had launched its own e-mail service in 1999, and been listed on the NASDAQ, raising £150 million as a result. In 2006, though, the sheer brilliance of the Blackberry shone through. The RIM handsets – and in particular the 7100 “Charm” series – offered a range of useful features such as cameras, chat features and navigations. It was this addictiveness that led to the infamous ‘CrackBerry’ nick-name.
From there, the company skyrocketed further. With the release of the entry-level ‘Curve’ and the 8800 series a year later, RIM because the most valuable company in Canada. They boasted a huge 10 million subscribers by the end of 2007, with the recently released first iPhone barely a blip on the company’s radar. Functionality dominated the market, and as a result, Blackberry became king.
First Storm, then Bold
The first hints of trouble came in 2008, with Blackberry releasing the Storm. (Interestingly, it launched roundabout the same time as a small network called Android – you might have heard of it). Unfortunately, with the competition now stronger (the iPhone had now been joined by the HTC Dream and the Palm Pre), the Storm did not compare favourably. Reviews almost across the board declared it to be glitch-y and sluggish, with the touch screen in particular being questioned. It was only the subsequent release of the popular (and lauded) Blackberry Bold that enabled the company to reach their all-time estimated worth of £49 million.
The Fall: Riots, Playbooks and outages
In 2011, Blackberry decided to target the tablet market following the success of the iPad. The resulting PlayBook, though, was another stone around the company’s neck. The interface was clunky to use, and apps – a key part of any tablet success – were largely non-existent. Indeed, there wasn’t even an e-mail or calendar app available at the time of release, making the PlayBook unpopular with businesses for whom these apps were a basic requirement. The iPad went on to become ubiquitous in boardrooms around the world.
Later in that same year, negative PR became an issue, with BlackBerry messenger apparently playing a key part in the riots that swept England. Many businesses were keen to avoid the negative stereotype of the brand as that used in the poorer urban areas of the country. With severe outages in the BlackBerry network taking place later on in the year, the company was forced into making a full public apology.
The Blackberry 10
Following on from such a horrible year, it was vital that the company surpassed itself with the Launch of the BlackBerry 10. However, delays followed delays, and the handset ended up being over a year and a half late when compared to its original planned release date. By then, even the most loyal Blackberry users had reached the ends of their contracts and been forced to consider going elsewhere. Though the subsequent Z10 and the Q10 did garner some positive reviews, they did not arrest the decline in the number of BlackBerry subscribers. Businesses require stability, and the brand had been unable to come up with the goods.
The company continues to create handsets – the Z30 being one of the most recent – but today, Blackberry is reminiscent of Nokia in its position as a once dominant market monster trying to stay afloat in today’s brutally competitive smart phone world.
Damian Coates is a Director at Utilize. He’s witnessed Blackberry’s rise and fall first hand and has integrated much of the manufacturer’s innovations into his own clients’ IT support and infrastructure plans.