Remember that kid in high school who was popular, seemed to have it all, and then just disappeared? Maybe they never moved out of their parents’ house or they ended up at the local McDonald’s, taking your order whenever you stopped there on your sporadic visits to your parent’s home. That’s the kid that peaked in high school, and as bad as we feel for them that their lives ended up being extraordinarily ordinary, we secretly love that it never happened to us.
Blackberry is the kid that peaked in high school.
I had a Blackberry Pearl hand-me-down from my father when I was in high school. Just to age myself a bit, this was almost seven years ago when I began using the phone. I absolutely loved that Blackberry. I used the phone until the end of its lifetime which ended with buttons missing, a track ball that wouldn’t roll smoothly anymore, and buttons that just wouldn’t click anymore. This was during the peak of Blackberry, just before the iPhone took over the world by storm. I still had friends who used Blackberry phones and we were all obsessed. The funny thing looking back is that Blackberry was and probably easily is still the phone I was most fond of and rarely complained about.
The full keyboard was revolutionary at the time. Honestly, you didn’t have to use T9 anymore and anyone who used to text on the old flip phones can attest to how incredibly annoying it was and how difficult to learn the process of texting was with a T9 keyboard. But the full keyboard on the Blackberry was amazing and especially because it was the QWERTY keyboard layout, only two keys per button was arguably way more awesome than three (sometimes four, we’re looking at you letter ‘s’).
Who cared if the camera wasn’t that great? There weren’t many other phones boasting an amazing camera. For the average Joe, we were still using Cannons and Nikons to take photos on family vacations. Remember how photography with actual cameras was still
something people did 6-7 years ago? Blackberry was taking the world by storm; “Crackberry” became a term for the phone and the dedicated user base it had built.
Before Apple created iMessage, Blackberry had BBM (Black Berry Messenger) and for those who used it, it ruled. All you needed was another Blackberry users pin and you could send them unrestricted length text messages. All around, you were just cooler by using BBM. All up until, the iPhone launched.
The first problem emerged with how small of a consumer base Blackberry was building. As for a high school student like myself at the time, I couldn’t fully utilize the features on Blackberry phones. For your every day and business needs, Blackberry phones were the “it” phone. Getting emails on your phone and being able to confidently type responses without worrying about how awful T9 was really revolutionized what you wanted to buy. Blackberry didn’t concern themselves with other target groups- they had their niche market and they were fine. No need to try to market to anyone else, you and everyone you knew that used their phones were doing plenty word of mouth advertising. Blackberry believed in
the loyalty of their consumer base.
Then the iPhone invaded. It was a well planned surprise attack. Once the iPhone caught fire you looked outdated carrying around a Blackberry- or literally anything that wasn’t an iPhone. The camera was better, the screen was better, the user face was amazing and simple to use, and Apple convinced you that you NEEDED the phone. You may not have wanted it, but man did you need it.
The big downfall Blackberry encountered, which I would consider their kiss of death, was their nonchalance about the beginnings of the iPhone. RIM, the company that owns Blackberry, was too confident in the loyalty of their consumer base. Talk about being stabbed in the back about a million times. RIM didn’t take the iPhone seriously, didn’t consider how seriously the iPhone was going to potentially dominate the market, so they didn’t prepare. Technology changes- that’s just one of the brutal ways the industry functions. Blackberry became so irrelevant so quickly it makes your head spin if you think about it too long.
Now I can’t speak for what the top guys of Blackberry were thinking, but I can only imagine it was along the lines of, “We have made a terrible mistake.” As they sat in their offices watching their market shares tank and loyal customers abandon them.
What really sealed the fate of Blackberry and turned it into the brunt of all jokes today was not adapting their software to be downloadable on Android or Apple products. Blackberry essentially refused to give into their rivals to keep their company alive. I mean, after the kind of attack they suffered with the iPhone release, I think they valued their pride over continuing a successful business platform. Because they ultimately missed their window to adapt their software to be available cross platform, Blackberry was swallowed whole by the technology shift. They were left behind, licking their wounds as their market shares tanked drastically. Today, Blackberry has made their software available on all the main platforms but no one cares. The last time I heard of anyone using a Blackberry was about three years ago, when my friend was trying to hold out hope.
My friend bought one of the touch screen Blackberry’s the company struggled to release a few years after the whirlwind of iPhone. The phone was terrible to say the least. It was littered with random glitches, the phone would freeze quite often, and she would complain she felt left out because she didn’t have an iPhone. Her phone completely quit on her about three months into their estranged relationship, and she jumped ship to join team iPhone. Her hopes of a better Blackberry days had died, along with her phone.
Although I personally did not join team iPhone, smartphones that mimicked the iPhone were quickly making their debuts and I ditched team Blackberry as soon as I graduated high school. Thus ended my great relationship with my Blackberry Pearl and it joined the depths of all other discarded Blackberry’s.
Let’s revisit our high school analogy. I attribute the iPhone’s takeover to high school graduation. As if Blackberry crossing the stage to receive their diploma was all the time they needed to lag just enough for the iPhone to swoop in and convert almost their entire user base. And then, just like that, Blackberry became the laughing stock of the mobile world as their stocks plummeted.
Try going into a mobile phone store today to buy a Blackberry. I’ll bet you’re not going to find one. The stores today are dominated by iPhone vs. Android. I’m pretty sure if you asked a sales associate if they had Blackberry you would have to google a photo and say, “I want to see this phone right here.” The looks people get when they try to buy Blackberry phones must be hilarious. You can’t download the prominent apps that lead the market today onto your Blackberry phone. This puts you behind. Makes kids feel left out in their social groups. Makes you the brunt of all bad Blackberry jokes in the office.
So now Blackberry is trying to launch the Blackberry Passport 2 (Surprise, I didn’t even know there was a Passport 1) and having it run Android Lollipop (or maybe Marshmallow depending on how long the launch takes). They’re still keeping the keyboard off the screen which I find to be a critical design flaw. The technology has evolved to on screen keyboards, so I feel that’ll be a tough sell to resort people back to this type of screen change. Then there are rumors about “Venice”, which will try to rock the design of the very undesirable slide out keyboard. Blackberry is definitely trying, but it’s unfortunate it took them this long to decide to bring their A game.
But the market is competitive, and unless Blackberry is prepared to create a phone that will blow Google and iPhones completely out of the water, they don’t stand a chance. If they had competed with iPhone from the beginning, they may have stood a fair chance in remaining relevant. Perhaps they could be like Brittney Spears- recovering from a 2007 meltdown and coming back years later with a revamped image and public persona. It could happen.
So what have we learned from the downfall of Blackberry? Don’t be stubborn- accept that in the technologically dominated world we live in now that if you don’t keep up or stay one step ahead of your competitors, you become irrelevant. You have to keep an open mind in order to keep your business alive and thriving.
Though as we all learned from that kid who peaked in high school, the further away your glory years are, the less chance you have of recreating them.