Ten years ago, at the headquarters of research in Motion (RIM), located in Waterloo Waterloo County, Ontario, Canada, was bustling with activity. The offices were filled with employees, and the lights in the Windows didn’t go out until midnight, showing passing drivers the silhouettes of busy people. Today it’s a Ghost office. And let the lights still be on at the entrance, no one passes through the turnstiles, no one crowds into Smoking rooms and does not walk around the floors, and in the empty Parking lot you can hold yard football tournaments. It resembles an abandoned General Motors plant in Detroit. What happened to the once famous company that produced BlackBerry phones that conquered the whole world at the beginning of the XXI century and which are still appreciated by true aesthetes and fans of secure communication?
The history of BlackBerry began much earlier than the 2000s. And the first devices that Research in Motion released in 1984 were more like pagers than smartphones. The BlackBerry brand itself appeared only in 1997, and the first phone with a QWERTY keyboard under this name was released exactly in 2000. It was called the BlackBerry 957 Proton. From this moment on, the expansion of BlackBerry communicators, phones and smartphones of the company began in the mobile technology market.
However, we will not immediately get ahead of ourselves. To begin with, the industrial town of Waterloo has never been and never claimed to be a technical center. Its population by the beginning of the 80s of the XX century was about 120,000 people. But that all changed in 1984, when Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregan, two engineering students from the University of Waterloo, founded Research in Motion, a company that develops wireless data transmission devices. Little did anyone think that in the next few decades, RIM would become one of the pillars that changed the way people around the world communicate. And as the company grows, so will the city’s population.
Thanks to BlackBerry, Waterloo became a place where you could easily meet famous people: for example, Research in Motion was attended by the Queen of England, the famous physicist Stephen Hawking, cyclist lance Armstrong and others. Moreover, some of the BlackBerry employees also became famous due to the popularity of smartphones and communicators. Mike Kirkup, head of developer relations, even received personal security during a trip to Indonesia to protect himself from the crowds of fans of the acclaimed brand of phones.
Canadian Research In Motion has become a pioneer in the smartphone market with its BlackBerry push-button phones. By 2005, the company had over 20,000 employees. At the same time, the market value of RIM itself was estimated at $ 80 billion. Manufactured phones were a real phenomenon, customers were crazy about them, and wall Street financial institutions and even the US government bought them for their employees, because the devices produced not only allowed convenient and fast typing, but also provided a secure Network connection, as well as providing round-the-clock encrypted access to email.
Among the big fans of BlackBerry smartphones was the us President himself-Barack Obama. When reporters asked him during the 2007-2008 presidential race, “What will you do if they don’t let you bring your BlackBerry into the White House?” After all, according to American laws, the us President cannot have personal means of communication. “They’ll have to snatch it out of my hands»“Yes,” Obama said at the time. In the end, he still managed to find a loophole in the Constitution and keep his favorite Communicator with him. Popular singer Madonna admitted to sleeping with her BlackBerry under her pillow, and rapper Jay-Z in 2014 mentioned The BlackBerry Bold line of phones in his song Venus vs. Mars with the line ” If HOV’s a Blackberry Bold, Shawty is a Sidekick…”.
“BlackBerry was the coolest company, because everyone carried a piece of it in their pocket,” recalls engineer Michael litt. And we felt that no one and nothing could stop it». Waterloo residents were also completely devoted to RIM: according to research in Motion employees, no one in the city carried Nokia or Motorola phones. Just like no one ever drove a Honda in Detroit. Even when the era of BlackBerry smartphones, despite the sacred belief in endless success, began to decline, and criticism rained down on the company, there were always people from Ontario who reminded presumptuous bloggers that every company meets obstacles on the way and BlackBerry will eventually get better.
The fall of BlackBerry began in 2007, when the iPhone showed the world that smartphones should be not only practical, but also beautiful. “I knew we were in trouble when the Barber who was cutting my hair pulled an iPhone out of his pocket,” recalls David Yach, CTO of software at RIM from 1998 to 2012. In 2008, Apple sold 10 million devices worldwide and began to break into the corporate market, the mainstay of BlackBerry.
Bankers and lawyers may not have liked the fact that typing on an iPhone isn’t as easy as on a BlackBerry, but they liked the new touch-screen interface and a large set of functional apps. With Samsung’s entry into the smartphone market, research in Motion’s financial losses began to grow. At that time, RIM’s management refused to accept reality and was in no hurry to switch from an analog keyboard to touch input. However, in 2011, the offensive of competitors forced the company to launch an ill-conceived series Of BlackBerry PlayBook tablets on the market. After that, it was too late to change course.
In January 2012, research in Motion was taken over by a new CEO from Germany, Torsten Heins. Started a total of dismissal: a hundred people here, two hundred there. The crown of cuts and many hours of reworking of the remaining engineers was the release in 2013 of the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone, which had a fully touch screen and did not have hardware buttons. At the same time, the touch keyboard was designed based on the principles of user interaction with an analog keyboard and offered automatic selection of words in the spirit of the ” T9 ” mode to speed up typing.
BlackBerry: the wind of change and the consequences of layoffs
As BlackBerry cut back on its workforce, local business owners in Waterloo worried that they would feel the brunt of the blow. And so it happened. Talented engineers who moved to the Canadian province began to leave, the number of visitors in restaurants and bars decreased, and many local unemployed were no longer up to evening gatherings in eateries.
But then an interesting thing happened. Some of the companies that did not want to move to Silicon Valley moved to the town of Kitchener, located in the province of Ontario (Canada), near Waterloo. One of the offices of Google, Electronic Arts, Intel settled there, and even the Chinese Huawei planned to open a new technology center in the region. The local economy quickly began to return to normal, despite the fall of BlackBerry, and Waterl was not “lucky” to repeat the fate of Detroit. But at the same time, the days of royal visits to Waterloo and hip-hop songs mentioning “blackberries” are gone, as are the days when the entire region was filled with pride in BlackBerry smartphones.
As of 2015, Research In Motion employed about 7,000 people, and the company’s capitalization was $ 5.25 billion, a drop of more than 90%. At the same time, the share of “blackberry” smartphones in the world market was less than 1%. Even despite the release of the successful BlackBerry Priv slider a year earlier, in the last quarter of 2016, of the more than 432 million smartphones sold worldwide, only 207,900 were BlackBerry devices. It was then that the company announced that it would no longer be engaged in the production of smartphones, completely transferring the creation and production of new devices to the Chinese company TCL. Research In Motion itself is fully focused on the development of software for corporate security.
BlackBerry: The rebirth of a legend
The deal with TCL implied the following: a Chinese IT company was offered to develop and produce equipment for new phones, while BlackBerry promised to provide software. TCL employees do not hide that they were very excited when Research In Motion signed an agreement with them on licensing and technical support for the BlackBerry brand. However, the Chinese did not take any chances and decided to continue the production of “blackberry” smartphones at all costs. Released in 2017, the BlackBerry KEYone was highly appreciated by fans of the brand. Then came the BlackBerry Motion, BlackBerry Key2, and the “lite” BlackBerry Key2 LE.
Today’s BlackBerry phones still have the iconic keyboard, but run on Android, giving users a popular app store and much more customization options than the BlackBerry OS. Moreover, these mobile devices are still sold to a specific type of user: people who need the best features to maintain privacy and security on mobile networks. However, 2019 passed without announcements and the appearance of new BlackBerry models, which alerted fans of “blackberry”. And this wariness was not unfounded.
Have BlackBerry smartphones finally left the market?
In early February 2020, the Chinese manufacturer TCL announced that it plans to stop selling “blackberry” smartphones after the license expires at the end of August 2020. At the same time, service and support for customers who still remain owners of “blackberry” phones will be carried out until August 31, 2022.
It is worth taking into account the fact that BlackBerry phones with Android as an operating system have recently played almost no significant role in the smartphone market. Thus, the appearance of a new licensee was not expected. This means that BlackBerry smartphones finally had to disappear from the mobile device market.
However, at the end of August 2020, just in time for the expiration of the license, it became known that the new BlackBerry smartphone will still be released… in 2021. It is being developed by the startup company OnwardMobility, which bought the rights to the brand and entered into an agreement with FIH Mobile Limited (a subsidiary of Foxconn, which will help in the implementation of OnwardMobility’s ambitions). According to rumors, the phone will support wireless networks of the 5G generation and will retain the proprietary QWERTY keyboard. But will there be any buyers?
However, even regardless of whether we see the new BlackBerry devices or not, the phones of this brand will forever remain a brick in the foundation of the history of smartphones.