What happened to BlackBerry: from its beginnings as a smartphone to its latest attempts to survive with Android

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More than a decade ago, the most aspirational mobile phone was not an iPhone, it was a BlackBerry

 

It seems incredible, but just 15 years ago one of the most popular smartphones in the world, or rather, one of the most popular mobile brands, was characterized by making mobile phones with physical keyboard. More than a decade ago, people of all ages wanted the most It wasn’t an iPhone or a Galaxy, it was a BlackBerry. And if you didn’t use their messaging system, you were basically left out of any conversation.

They were very different times. The iPhone already existed, but even some executives of the world’s largest technology companies they made fun of the Apple smartphone. Have a full physical keyboard (QWERTY) in the palm of your hand was the standard back then, something that today for younger people will seem crazy.

What happened to BlackBerry? Just over a decade after being one of the companies with the largest market share among smart phones in the world, we remember its most emblematic moments, its successes, its failures, and its resurgence… although not in the form of smartphones.

once upon a time there was a king

What I mentioned a few lines ago is no exaggeration. Between 2007 and 2009, perhaps even 2010, The most aspirational mobile phone was a BlackBerry. The company responsible for these terminals, originally known as RIM (Research in Motion), was founded in Canada in 1984, but it would not be until 1996 when they launched their first mobile device, or something like that: a seeks called Inter@ctive Pager 900which was followed by some similar models.

The first BlackBerry, technically, was the BlackBerry 5810 from 2002, a monochrome screen device that could receive emails, send text messages, and even browse the Internet. But it was nothing other than the arrival of the first BlackBerry Pearl and BlackBerry Curvand what marked a before and after for the company.

The BlackBerry 5810.

RIM had long focused on the professional, corporate market. After all, back then those who constantly needed access to their email were executives, businessmen and professionals. However, the BlackBerry Curve and Pearl had greater appeal to the mainstream consumer, with a sleek look and, in the case of the Curve, included a 2 MP camera.

Starting in 2007, BlackBerry (then still called RIM) had also released one of its most unique and interesting features to the market: the trackball, a small sphere in the center of the mobile phone that, when rotated with the thumb, allowed you to scroll through the interface in four directions. Nowadays, in the age of touch screens, this may seem crazy. But at that time he felt revolutionary, almost futuristic.

Blackberry Curve 8310
The BlackBerry Curve with its iconic trackball.

The success of some of these mobiles He managed to grow the company’s share considerably, and in just a few years. By 2007, BlackBerry was the second largest mobile brand in the world, only surpassed by Nokia (another brand whose presence also changed drastically in the last 15 years). In 2009according to data collected by Gartner (via Statista), BlackBerry had 20.7% of the global market. One in every five mobile phones sold on the planet was BlackBerry, but from that year on the decline began.

A decline that, by the way, is not only the responsibility of the rise of the iPhone and Android phones, although clearly these were the Davids that brought down the Canadian Goliath (and that over time have become the titans of the smartphone market ). There is another very important factor in BlackBerry’s decline in popularity: BlackBerry Messenger.

With WhatsApp came the beginning of the end of BlackBerry

BlackBerry Messenger, also known simply as BBM or, among the youngest of that time, as “Can you give me your PIN?” (writing this has made me feel a little old, I confess), was the messaging platform developed by RIM-BlackBerry for its mobile phones. Its most important feature is that it promised security for shared data and messages sent through the platform.

But honestly, that seems to have been the least important thing for many users. BBM became the standard for chatting between friends and family. It was WhatsApp from 2007 to 2011 or 2012. If you didn’t have a BlackBerry and therefore couldn’t use BBM, you ran the risk of being left out of conversations with your friends and colleagues at university or even at work.

This reminds me of what we have been seeing in the United States for some years. In that country, the “war” of iPhone against Android (yes, for some it is a competition) goes beyond their screens, their cameras and what mobile phones in each ecosystem can do. In the United States there is a very strange obsession with the color of “bubbles” when sending text messages (SMS). If you have an iPhone and they write to you from an iPhone, the bubble will be blue. If you do it from an Android, the message will have a green bubble. And this has apparently resulted discrimination towards Android users In U.S.A.

BBM

The case of BBM was somewhat similar. Yes, it was possible to send a regular text message (SMS) to someone with a BlackBerry, but BBM was the preferred way to communicate for many. It was basically a successor to Messenger (MSN), but on mobile. But let’s not talk about MSN anymore, it makes me feel even older.

This began to change in 2010. Although WhatsApp was born in 2009, it was not until the following year that the application was available for both iOS, Symbian and Android. The potential of the application at that time was so great that Google tried to buy it, and tried several times.

In 2011, BBM had about 43 million active users worldwide. Two years later, in 2013, BBM surpassed 100 million users worldwide. In the case of WhatsApp, in 2009, the year the company was founded, they had just 250,000 active users, but by December 2013, the application had more than 400 million users active every month. Its great advantage was clear: being multiplatform (almost) from the beginning.

BBM launched its Android and iPhone app in October 2013, perhaps too late, like many of the changes the company made during its years as a smartphone manufacturer.

BB10 and the attempt to revive through Android

Bb Z10
Blackberry Z10

BlackBerry began flirting with touch screens with some of its smartphones that included a physical QWERTY keyboard, but perhaps one of its most interesting devices, and at the same time one of its failures, is the BlackBerry PlayBook, a tablet which the company launched in April 2011 with its own version of the company’s operating system, called BlackBerry Tablet OS. An operating system that shortly after would serve as one of the parts to give life to BB10.

The BB PlayBook had a 1 Ghz Texas Instruments processor, 1 GB of RAM and up to 64 GB of storage. The hardware was correct for the date, it even had a 7-inch screen, a very popular size in the Android tablet ecosystem during those years (it seems incredible that today many of us carry an almost 7-inch mobile phone in our pocket). The PlayBook’s user experience was not perfect, although fortunately it included access to Android applications. However, that was not enough: The PlayBook had arrived at the height of the iPada year after the launch of the Apple tablet.

While BlackBerry shipped about 2.5 million units of the PlayBook in total, Apple’s first iPad alone sold about 15 million units (in fact, on the first day alone Apple sold 300,000 iPads).

BB Q10
The BlackBerry Q10

At this time, between 2013 and 2014, BlackBerry’s efforts to rise from the ashes began. In early 2013, during Thorsten Heins’ brief but intense reign as CEO of the company, The BlackBerry Z10 arrivedone of the most emblematic models of the company for being the first to fully embrace the idea of ​​focusing the experience on a touch screen without a physical keyboard (with respect to the BlackBerry Torch). Yes, BlackBerry also launched the Q10 with physical keyboardbut the Z10 felt like a before and after for the company.

This model had the new BlackBerry 10 operating systemwhich reinvented the user experience of the brand’s mobile phones, based on interactions through touch gestures on the screen and even counting, in versions after its launch, with support for Android applications. Months later, the BlackBerry Z30 arrived, successor to the Z10 with an even larger screen (5” instead of 4.2”), along with other improvements.

BlackBerry continued trying with some very interesting mobile phones with BB10 operating system, including the BlackBerry Passport and, of course, the BlackBerry Classic In 2014, a kind of tribute to the legendary BlackBerry Bold from 2008 with a similar but modern look, full physical keyboard and even the small square touchpad in the central part of the mobile. BlackBerry OS would see its definitive end in January 2022.

BB Priv
The BlackBerry Priv, perhaps the most interesting mobile phone of the entire BlackBerry era with Android.

After these efforts, 2015 marked the year of the beginning of the Android era among BlackBerr mobile devicesand, starting with the Priv which arrived at the end of that year, with a 5.43-inch touchscreen that hid a full touch keyboard, when you slide the screen up.

If there was a BlackBerry that made me consider returning to the brand after many years using traditional Android phones, it was the Priv. Because the Priv seemed like the best of both worlds: Android operating system with some BlackBerry additions, and a keyboard that could appear only when needed. My first Android phone was Motorola Milestoneand precisely the idea of ​​having a touch screen accompanied by a keyboard that “hid” behind the screen was one of its greatest attractions.

The BB Priv arrived with a version of Android Lollipop (5.1.1), and was updated to Android Marshmallow (6.0.1), and although there is no official figure, it is estimated that Their sales were not very good.. Between the years 2016 and 2018 we saw some other interesting attempts by BlackBerry to revive the Android operating system, including the BlackBerry KeyOne and the BlackBerry Key2 in 2018.

BB Key 2
The BlackBerry Key 2.

But BlackBerry’s era as a smartphone maker seems to be over. has been left in the pastalong with its other products that made history, such as BlackBerry Messenger, which closed in 2019. Currently, the company is dedicated to working on software and security solutions, focusing especially on smart devices (IoT). and for the cars.

The one that fifteen years ago was the leader in the mobile market, has had to adapt and mutate, betting on other technological markets. Other brave men fell with heras Windows Phone, WebOS, Symbian and more. Today the platform duopoly is iOS and Android, and it seems unlikely that it will change in a short time, although there are already new players entering the field.

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Mubashir Hassan
Expert in tech and gaming, blending industry insights with expertise