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A juicy BlackBerry 10 won’t make BlackBerry phones more desirable

Research In Motion (RIM), who as of this week officially changed its name to BlackBerry, has come a long way since its beginnings in Waterloo, Canada in 1984. Started by two engineering students, Mike…

Research in Motion has reinvented itself as BlackBerry — and has released two new phones to boot — but its smartphone market share will be far from peachy. AAP

Research In Motion (RIM), who as of this week officially changed its name to BlackBerry, has come a long way since its beginnings in Waterloo, Canada in 1984. Started by two engineering students, Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin, the company initially concentrated on consulting and setting up wireless point-of-sale equipment. In 1992, Jim Balsillie joined the company as it was creating two-way wireless paging, a precursor of what would become BlackBerry Messaging. The first BlackBerry device providing email and two-way paging was introduced in 1998, the year after the company had listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. By 2007, the company was worth $68 billion and became Canada’s most valuable company.

And then along came Apple and Google.

In the US, BlackBerry fell from 44% of the market in 2009 to less than 10% in 2012. Its stock price has fallen from a high of $144 in 2008 to around $13 today. Worldwide, RIM shipped less than 4.6% of all smartphones.

BlackBerry achieved its popularity because, at the time, it offered businesses a secure way of giving their staff access to email. The characteristic BlackBerry keyboard provided an efficient means of navigating and dealing with email. Compared to other phones on the market, especially the clunky Windows-based phones of the time, the BlackBerry was far better. More importantly, it was a phone that corporate IT departments liked. BlackBerry’s rise to prominence was during a period when decisions about corporate mobile platforms were still exclusively a decision made by the IT crowd. Users had no say, but generally didn’t complain because there was clearly nothing better.

But then things changed. Apple and Google caught up and surpassed BlackBerry in providing tools to keep the IT department happy. This allowed the IT departments to give their staff, usually led by the executives, the ability to use their own devices at work, increasingly iPhones and Android smartphones. By comparison, the BlackBerry began to be seen as being outdated and even “embarrassing” to own.

Of course, as with Nokia and Microsoft, RIM has sought to reinvent its phones based on a new operating system. The new OS, BlackBerry 10, was launched this week alongside two new phones the Z10 and Q10. Reviews of the phones and the OS have been largely positive, highlighting innovative features such as the use of gestures to navigate between applications, preview email and enage with social media. But universally, and almost without exception, the opinion has been that it is too little, too late. There is also the stigma of BlackBerry. If it is now becoming “uncool” to own an iPhone, this is nothing compared to how uncool BlackBerry is perceived to be. BlackBerry was never really a consumer-oriented phone even in its heyday, and it is consumers — not businesses — that make up the largest portion of the smartphone market now.

Other than providing yet another option for a smartphone that is not Apple, Android or Windows or from brand loyalty, there is no compelling reason for anyone to choose a BlackBerry. RIM/BlackBerry has done well to convince the number of application developers it has to port their applications to the new platform — offering cash incentives helped. However, there will only be a fraction of the applications that are available for iOS and Android.

The story of RIM is another object lesson of a company and its leaders who refused to acknowledge that their success could be fleeting and who ignored competitive threats until it was too late. Even recently, European managing director Stephen Bates refused to mention or discuss the iPhone when pressed by the interviewer. All questions about how BlackBerry 10 compared to the iPhone were simply ignored. It was almost like there had been an edict from the CEO banning any mention of Apple or Samsung under the threat of some extreme penalty!

The launch of BlackBerry 10 may slow BlackBerry’s decline into irrelevance, but BlackBerry’s final destination is still the same.

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9 Comments sorted by

  1. Andii Hei

    logged in via Facebook

    David, you might as well write an obituary for Blackberry now.

  2. Paul Clark

    Not relevant

    Yes the Blackberry is passe but this is is just a matter of desirability - a sophisticated blend of function design and marketing of which Apple is the master. This could change but for Blackberry, like Nokia, seems too little too late
    David Glance reveals himself from this and previous contributions to be on of those techo-geeks who spruik Google-Android and try to put down Apple. There was no Android when I-phone took the world by storm. Google and Samsung simply copied Apple - as closely as…

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  3. Theo Pertsinidis
    Theo Pertsinidis is a Friend of The Conversation.

    ALP voter

    Research In Motion or BlackBerry, gotta feel like christians singing their own tune in a Roman colosseum. The genocide of Greeks in Pontos...

    Death is certain but we want to choose the way we die... World Heritage and Green Economy go hand in hand as well.

    1st Grade

    Simple messages that connect with consumer wants.

    2nd Grade

    Implementation and delivery of consumer wants.

    3rd Grade

    Consumer use of products and services and feedback.

    That's my simple view of government and business.

  4. Ian Mascarenhas


    Working in the IT industry I think your article has some points but vastly disagree with many points. Apple is becoming boring, and people are leaving it in flocks as their contracts expire. They now have the oldest platform on the market, and releasing a new iphone or ipad with the same boring old OS and look and feel is becoming last decades fashion, you have to keep innovating! Apple hasnt innovated since they released the ipad, now the new ipad to be released with 128gb is nothing special more…

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  5. Baz M

    Law graduate & politics/markets analyst

    David, as an individual whom is clearly quite involved in the industry, I'm disappointed that your view of Blackberries decline as merited as it is, is justified via quite simplified reasoning.

    A) I keep hearing about this cool factor, and how Blackberry is laughed at, yet unless your an 16-25 year old social media addict, I don't really see whom views it as uncool. All high management, and corporate I know off still use their Blackberry. If your reference of uncool is more on the consumer side…

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  6. Tim Allman

    Medical Software Developer

    As with any computer, it's that applications that make it useful and there is no question that RIM's former management didn't understand this. The process of developing for the old OS was painful to say the least, mostly because no one cared to make it better. Also, the platform was truly limited and unreliable by modern standards. I'm currently developing for an Apple platform and I have to say that learning and using their development tools is generally quite easy and convenient which I think goes…

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  7. Ingrid Suter

    PhD Candidate at University of Queensland

    Great article, very well researched and realistic on all accounts. Blackberry has lost so much of the market it once dominated. But as a happy Blackberry user and owner myself, I will stay with this brand rather than switch to one of the two dominate brands. Why? I find Blackberry’s user friendly and the product suits my needs (I don’t need a massive screen to watch YouTube clips or hundreds of apps). By no means a cheap phone option, I quite enjoy the exclusivity of owning a Blackberry in an iphone world. Like the article states, Blackberry never set out to be the teen-choice of smart phones, although this is where a lot of profit lies. But I think it must be acknowledged that many S.E Asian nations are experiences a surge in Blackberry popularity. Perhaps RIM has been tapping into newer markets rather than trying to re-establish/win over the iphone/Galaxy markets. Either way, when I need an upgrade I will be buying the new Blackberry, it is simply a good product.

  8. Edward Borland

    IT Consultant

    There is some background here but no discussion of the Blackberry strategy moving forward. There is more to choosing a phone than fashion. The global market is made up of many countries with Blackberry doing well recently in emerging markets, particularly South East Asia with more attractive pricing.

    "There is no compelling reason for anyone to choose a BlackBerry".. Not really, if your business has an existing investment in the BB platform, people know how to use it, people are tied to messaging…

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  9. Clinton Murdock

    logged in via Twitter

    Hey Paul Clark, while i am not on the side of any particular manufacturer, i'm not a geek but i like any other human compare and buy my products based on personal taste and usefulness, and while u may have one or two valid points the numbers speak for themselves and are out there for everyone who understands them to see, i did not see David's comments and biased againce Apple but more so as commonsensical and strait forward derived from information at hand, i live in a third world island and even…

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