The evolution of BlackBerry

Image: basrawii via iStock

BlackBerry recently announced that it is to stop designing and manufacturing smartphones in-house, intending to focus on software development.

This is a significant departure from its position as one of the most important smartphone manufacturers in the world.

However, that position was itself a step away from what the company was when it began its life.

Arrow looks at the path that BlackBerry has carved and how things have changed for the company.

Beginnings

BlackBerry began life as Research In Motion Ltd (RIM), a company founded by engineering students Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin in Ontario, Canada.

RIM produced pagers and PDAs before mobile phones were the vital extension of people’s lives that they are today. One of its early successes was the Inter@ctive Pager, the world’s first two-way messaging pager.

In 1999, the BlackBerry name was created, presented to the world in the form of the BlackBerry 850 pager. It was the following year when the first BlackBerry smartphone would be created.

Smartphones

The BlackBerry 957 was debuted in April 2000, the first of a long list of smartphones to come.

Blackberry devices were capable of receiving push email, which was a new development in the world of mobile phones.

Jesse Hicks, writing at The Verge, said that BlackBerry “virtually created the smartphone market”. Indeed, before they came crashing into the field, smartphones were essentially unheard of.

Around the time the first of its smartphones would be produced, BlackBerry started to focus on its encryption, which led to the devices seeing increased usage by businesses and governments.

It was additions like the camera to BlackBerry smartphones that started gearing it towards a consumer market.

Leaders

A BlackBerry was one of the most important items that any business executive could have during the 2000s.

The company’s business users appreciated the fact that it was much more difficult for these smartphones to be hacked than it was for competitors.

Huge multinational firms like Shell and Goldman Sachs used the devices due to their strong security credentials. Governments bestowed BlackBerry devices to their employees for the same reason.

Celebrities were also pictured with their BlackBerrys in hand, leading to more demand from non-business users. It was difficult to find a well-known person without one at that time.

Competition

BlackBerry was at the top of the game. However, this wasn’t to last.

The firm had had no real competition for years but this changed dramatically with the rise of Apple, until then known largely for its Mac computers.

It was a lack of anticipation of the enormous consumer market that was a contributing factor in BlackBerry’s inability to compete.

Apple’s iPhone was to appeal to both the consumer and business markets, with its easy to use touchscreen and selection of apps. Apple was joined by other manufacturers like Samsung, LG and HTC, who tended to use the Android operating system developed by Google.

These Smartphones provided something to the consumer market that BlackBerry had not been focused on: fun. There were hundreds of apps that users could enjoy using, rather than those that were aimed at productivity and making work easier.

The touchscreen was a particular attraction to consumers. BlackBerry had always made phones with a physical keyboard. However, the sales of iPhones seemed to indicate that touchscreens were a big draw.

BlackBerry responded by releasing its Storm model, a touchscreen smartphone that sold well – roughly 500,000 units in the first month – but received a number of negative reviews. Engadget.com said it had a sluggish overall performance and a dated operating system, whilst Techradar.com said it suffered from a lack of responsiveness.

Tablets were to become an area where BlackBerry seemed to hesitate. Apple had released its second generation iPad by the time BlackBerry came out with its PlayBook. Aiming the device at a business audience, BlackBerry seemed to be just too late.

The iPhone and Android-powered phones had taken over the market. It seemed that there was little space for BlackBerry outside of top-level business and government users.

Now

In 2015, BlackBerry stopped creating devices running on its own operating system, instead powering them on Android.

BlackBerry chief executive John Chen recently announced that the company was to stop manufacturing its own smartphones but that it would focus on software development instead. This, he said, was a result of needing to make money whilst remaining “efficient”.

The devices will not stop coming, however. BlackBerry has recently produced new smartphones and even a new tablet. The DTEK50 has been billed as the most secure smartphone ever created and the SecuTABLET – a tablet created in collaboration with Samsung – was deemed secure enough to be used by the German government.

BlackBerry will now start to outsource its hardware work, which means that devices will continue to be produced. In addition, its software business has been profitable. This is down to the reputation for security that BlackBerry still enjoys.

It is clear that BlackBerry has the ability to incorporate its secure software with complementary operating systems. Where it takes this is what remains to be seen.