Rise and fall of BlackBerry: how the smartphone era’s earliest adopters ultimately became luddites

The good news for the world’s remaining BlackBerry users: BlackBerry 10, the company’s long hyped answer to iPhone and Android, is real after all. The bad news: it’s not in any way impressive, from its unremarkable hardware to its somewhat confusing touch screen interface. It may provide a temporary boost to plummeting BlackBerry marketshare, which at last count only still held about three percent of the smartphone market, but it’s unlikely to prevent the company’s ultimate demise. The story behind the early innovative lead and subsequent long slow goodbye of the BlackBerry itself is nearly as remarkable as the arc which its longtime users have followed…

Back in 2002, the BlackBerry was the first smartphone anyone cared about. It had a bizarrely tiny physical keyboard, but unlike other cellphones of its day you could do email on it, even surf a watered down version of the internet. For those who needed email access on the go, the innovative BlackBerry was a must. Those who owned one were early adopters, technically advanced, risk takers, impressive. Then five years went by, and while the platform had evolved incrementally, the iPhone came along in 2007 and blew it out of the water in embarrassing fashion. Many BlackBerry users took the leap. Others remained behind, either blaming Apple for only offering a virtual keyboard, or blaming AT&T for blocking the iPhone from being available on their carrier. Within a couple years BlackBerry had what it thought was a response, in the form of the semi-touchscreen Storm, but it was so awful that existing BlackBerry users wanted nothing to do with it. Those who wanted off BlackBerry but didn’t want (or couldn’t get) an iPhone ended up on Android instead. BlackBerry marketshare tanked, but die hard users clung to it even as the app world and other new aspects of smartphone development passed them by. But then BlackBerry started promising something called BlackBerry 10, which was supposed to marry the finer traits of the original BlackBerry and the iPhone…

Those promises kept coming… and coming. By 2012 the company had a new CEO who was giving more concrete hints that BlackBerry 10 might actually exist, rather than merely being a “please don’t leave us yet” decoy. But by that time the smartphone wars had narrowed down to a two horse race, iPhone against Android, and even Microsoft’s largely ignored Windows Phone platform had managed to eke out a modest third place in marketshare. “BlackBerry” became synonymous with other early tech giants like MySpace or America Online, the first of their kind who fumbled away their early lead by never properly developing their innovative ideas, never evolving, and ultimately getting thoroughly passed by. The remaining BlackBerry users, some of whom had been with the platform since 2002, went from being seen as early adopters and tech leaders back in the day to now being seen as relative luddites, those stubbornly clinging to severely outdated technology even long after far more advanced products have become available and inexpensive and popular…

That’ll likely end now. The real sin BlackBerry just committed with the 10 is that it ditches the physical keyboard, the one excuse which most longtime BlackBerry users had been floating as an excuse to remain with the sinking platform, in favor of the same virtual keyboard that modern smartphones use. BlackBerry10 is, essentially, nothing more than a bad knockoff of the iPhone. And if longtime BlackBerry users are now faced with moving to a weak iPhone clone with a BlackBerry logo on it, or simply moving to a real iPhone, it seems inevitable that most of them will choose the latter. That’ll make them the first to get on the smartphone bandwagon a decade ago, but among the last to get on the next generation modern smartphone bandwagon that the rest of us have been on for some time now.

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Will Stabley is the Founder and Senior Editor of Stabley Times.
StableyTimesSquareLogo Rise and fall of BlackBerry: how the smartphone eras earliest adopters ultimately became luddites
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