An Ode to Blackberry

Friday, 27 September 2013

I am in mourning. I am a proud Canadian. Really, I am. We are, after all, the birthplace of Lululemon, Four Seasons hotels and Mark Carney. I wish Mr. Carney would develop a financial app, because I would buy it. If you're ever fortunate enough to book a room at a Four Seasons hotel somewhere in the world, you can count on the finest of absolutely everything. And you know you've made it big when every celebrity, from Kim Kardashian to The First Lady, is wearing your yoga pants.

And then there is Blackberry.

As the story goes, when RIM (Blackberry) co-founder Jim Balsillie pitched potential investors, he carried with him a wooden board that served as a rudimentary mock up  of his vision of a portable, handheld device that would someday revolutionize the way we communicate, work, play and live.

He was right.  No list of the World’s Most Influential Products Of The Last Decade would be complete without it, and for me it is at the top of that list.   

The Blackberry smartphone was first released in 2003. (There was a Blackberry 2-way pager before that).  In those days, Kristina and I were in the early days of shooting The Shopping Bags TV shows and looking back at pictures (the printed kind), there were a lot of bows on our clothing, and we had bangs. 

When the Blackberry arrived in stores, I was a quick addict.  It became an extension of my arm and, horrifically, there might have been a time or two I had it clipped to my belt (but never my bows).  

The thing about television is, it takes a maddeningly long time to make it.  If all goes according to plan, shooting our 22 minute show takes 4 days.  Hours upon hours are spent setting up and getting lighting exactly right.  Technical issues pop up daily. That means there is a lot of time spent standing around waiting.  

Those hours used to be wasted time, especially since we were producing as well as appearing in our shows.  There was a mountain of paperwork to do back at the office, meetings to attend and proposals to write.  

The Blackberry meant we could deal with all the business of TV while making it at the same time.  Brilliant. 

I’ve been through more devices then I care to know after having dropped one after another in the toilet, a lake, an ocean, cake batter and forgotten on an airplane. No one on this planet can type as fast as I can on that keyboard (without even looking).  If there was an Olympic event for BB typing, I would have all the gold medals.

But a lot has changed since 2003.  And in the world of consumer products, nowhere is constant reinvention more important than in technology.  There is always someone inventing something that’s faster, stronger and smarter.  If you don’t keep up, you’ll be left in the dust faster then you can hit send.  

I think that’s exactly what’s happened to Blackberry.  Other smartphones came along that did everything a Blackberry can do, but consumers became convinced the others do it better.  

For me It was always that keyboard that set Blackberry apart.  I’d see the latest product release from across the street and be tempted by all its bells, whistles and general coolness, but I just couldn’t get a grip on the touchscreen typing.  That, and I was loyal.

But if you’ve been following the news, you already know the writing’s on the wall. Blackberry has been losing market share at a rapid pace, slashing jobs and posting massive losses.  Consumers are simply no longer convinced.  What is widely believed to be the company’s last ditch product effort was the Blackberry Z10.  It was an utter flop and millions of them are now sitting in warehouses somewhere as “experts” speculate about what’s going to come of the company.

Many say its value lies in its arsenal of software patents.  If that were true then why aren’t Apple and Microsoft clammering to snap them up, keeping them from each other?  Perhaps it is because they’ve developed their own brilliant software.  

The one “offer” Blackberry did receive amounts to a limp letter of intent from a Canadian financial services holding company.  What do they know about instant messaging and touch screen technology.  Sorry, but I’ve got a life to live and I’m not going down with this ship.

And so it is with great sadness that I have decided the time has come to lay my Blackberry to rest.  I’m pulling the plug.

My dear Crackberry, my constant companion, my trusted keyboard and sender of secure messages, I bid you adieu.  I think I will bury you and your holster in my backyard.  R.I.P.

In lieu of flowers, please send iPhone 5s accessories.


Top Photo courtesy of Blackberry

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  • KikiMa17

    Brilliant! welcome to the Iphone era … to be honest, I was too, a crackberry addict and then …. unfortunately, they can compete with the fast internet and apps that, unfortunately make our lives easier … we are all on the go, all the time, which is sad but if we dont keep up, we’ll end up as the blackberry, traded and sadly in some drawer, turned off.

  • Lauren Bercovitch

    I loved your honest, hilarious, and sincere words to Blackberry Anna! And I’m so happy to welcome you to your post-crackberry life! May your transition from keyboard to touch screen be as smooth and painless as possible.

  • Eugen

    The one thing RIM (I still can’t bring myself to call them Blackberry) — and before them WordPerfect — never comprehended is that there’s a serious difference between corporate users and consumers. Corporate users are interested in just getting certain things done and ensuring there’s as little friction as possible in how they do that. Consumers are just in it for the gadgetry, the coolness of whatever “thing” is currently “hot”.

    Thus, WordPerfect had a lock on a lot of professional word processing. But squandered that when the market evolved courtesy of Windows. RIM, similarly, had a lock on corporate users but never understood the consumer market. But RIM, as do so many firms, attempted to please the idiots from Wall Street who are focused only on ever-growing mobile unit sales. RIM stupidly opted to try to run a numbers game. It was a losing proposition, especially when you’re known as a corporate focused firm. In other words, it’s just not cool for a consumer.

    This is the dichotomy too many firms face. And in my view it’s the fault of idiots on Wall Street who have convinced firms that they need to constantly be chasing the latest fad. And being in high tech where a lot of this crap is designed and built only sickens me. Great ideas and technologies are destroyed as CxOs pander to fools on Wall Street who have zero interest in long term viability and advancements and are only focused on numbers today.

    For consumers, phones are a status symbol. One iteration to the next does not truly differ that much. The sadness of watching people line up for these things boggles my mind. It’s just a bunch of plastic and silicon. It’s a tether to others so they can pester you incessantly. It’s a device whose sole purpose is to NOT give you peace and quiet, the one thing most of us bitch and whine we don’t have enough of.

    As you may have guessed, I personally have little use for any phone. They’re just gadgets. You can text with them. You can call people. You can surf the net if you wish. But they’re still just boring devices whose only purpose is to show off to others that you’ve got the latest toy.

    I don’t want to always be connected. And that notion of “always on” is what has driven so many firms into catatonia by having their managers micro-manage EVERYTHING. It’s appalling. And the governments at all levels are some of the worst. The trust that was present in business and government is gone. Instead, it’s “text me if you have a problem”. Which is just code for: “I don’t trust you to use any judgement, so have me decide.” Ugh.

    From observation I have come to the conclusion that mobile phones serve those who travel a lot or who are in sales the best. For the rest of us it’s truly just a status device, an annoyance, a hindrance. For example, I have grown weary of hearing teens moan about having to text their girl/boyfriends regularly. More than one teen/young adult I know wishes that they weren’t always connected even though, ironically, they can’t imagine not having a mobile phone. I tell them to just turn the damn thing off. They fear they’ll “miss something”. I’ve challenged them on how often they’ve ever had an important call. Most can’t recall ever having one. Go figure. The signal-to-noise is attrocious.

    Having run my own businesses or been an executive in far too many companies I’ve had a cell phone of one variety or other — but never a RIM, couldn’t stand them — since 1994. Today I own an iPhone 5. Not because it’s better than anything else. Not because I care much about the stupid thing. But because I remain an executive and need, at times, to be in contact with work when I’m away. Most of the time it sits silent on my desk or in my pocket. I can’t afford the distraction it inevitably brings. The other reason I have one is that my cellular provider gave it to me for free. I’ll probably keep this one until they pester me to get another new, free phone in a few years. I see little reason to change.

    After that long harangue, do enjoy your new iPhone. RIM did this mess to themselves. The first evidence of their stupidity was known to insiders who saw things unravelling. The biggest evidence of their not knowing what they’re doing was changing their name to Blackberry. It’s as if Apple changed their name to Macintosh and then later to iPhone. It was a stupid decision showing a complete and utter lack of any serious or intelligent leadership at RIM. The only hope for what remains of RIM will be a purge of the upper management and a focus on their core technologies. It might be wise to move to a full Android device leveraging their core software — assuming it’s written well and not as poorly thought out as their corporate planning. That could lead them to be a very powerful software force in the mobile arena. That’s a lot of assumptions, but it can be done. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    • Anna Wallner

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Eugen! The comments in the press that BB is made for corporate users and not consumers always makes me laugh. Aren’t corporate users also consumers? Don’t they have families and friends, take pictures and need directions? And don’t they also read attachments and send emails to clients? One device CAN do it all.

      • Eugen

        The mentality of the two markets is different. This is particularly evident when you work in a large multinational as I did. Most BB users I knew used their BBs as an email crutch. The camera, etc. were just there and rarely used. In fact, many of the folks I know in the Canadian government had BBs that had no camera due to security concerns. Corporate is a very lucrative market, but it doesn’t cross over to consumer that well, as RIM discovered. I’d argue many used their BBs solely as a means to micromanage, with disastrous results that I’ve sorely been witness to.

        The recent Globe and Mail article is very accurate. The attitude of engineers it describes I lived through personally. They truly didn’t get how fast handheld technology was changing. And instead of focusing on the software, the thing that actually drives devices, they were overly focused on managing resources — resources that were quickly becoming commoditized.

        Every big company goes through this. Most die because they simply cannot abandon the products that made them. This nearly did Apple in until Jobs returned. It’s doing Microsoft in now. It did RIM in. It is one of the most frustrating things about working in high tech: that so many very smart people become small minded and protective of their pet solutions even though that attitude has repeatedly been shown to result in death and destruction. And, yes, it will ultimately befall Apple, too.

        BTW, the most innovative company in high tech is not Apple, in case you’re curious. It’s actually Amazon. They truly innovate and are the firm that Apple should be most wary of. If anyone will knock Apple off its perch it most probably will be Amazon, especially with the forthcoming flexible, colour e-ink screens. I believe they will be a massive game changer.

  • Catherine Bent

    I just had to defend my use of Blackberry to my son (he wanted to buy me an iPhone) and to his surprise the App he so desperately wanted me to get was indeed available on my Blackberry. I will not give up my precious keyboard until the absolute last minute. I too can type like the wind accurately on my BB, having had one since it was just a pager and not a phone. I just cannot use the onscreen keyboards. Please Iphone, if you so desperately want the BB business – give me a real keyboard!

    • Anna Wallner

      I used to feel the same way – that they’d have to pry my bb from my cold dead hands. I’m told the touch screen thing takes some getting used to, but i’m considering it my latest challenge.

  • Tim Edwards

    I’ve always wonder why you like the Blackberry and now I know. At least you won’t have the same problem as Kristina about what to write about. I know you’ll tell us all about how your change to the iPhone is going.

  • Ric in Vic

    I think you gave up too soon on BB. I love my Q10 and my PlayBook is still going strong. I’m typing this on the PB and it takes 5X as long as with the keyboard. A year or two from now, I might be forced to move on but for now, I proudly wave the flag.