Join 3,556 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Inside the fall of BlackBerry
September 29, 2013 10:14 PM   Subscribe

Inside the fall of BlackBerry: How the smartphone inventor failed to adapt.

Mr. Boulben and Mr. Tear had dismissively told Mr. Lazaridis that the market for keyboard-equipped mobile phones – RIM’s signature offering – was dead.

In the board meeting, Mr. Lazaridis pointed to a BlackBerry with a keyboard. “I get this,” he said. “It’s clearly differentiated.” Then he pointed to a touchscreen phone. “I don’t get this.”

To turn away from a product that had always done well with corporate customers, and focus on selling yet another all-touch smartphone in a market crowded with them, was a huge mistake, Mr. Lazaridis warned his fellow directors. Some of them agreed.

The boardroom confrontation was a telling moment in the downfall of Research In Motion.
posted by modernnomad (108 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a great read, thanks.
posted by Jairus at 10:25 PM on September 29, 2013


There's a saying that every society is three meals away from revolution. I would adapt that to say that any consumer products company is three flops away from insolvency.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:36 PM on September 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


25 Years of IBM’s OS/2: The Strange Days and Surprising Afterlife of a Legendary Operating System

Big Blue's next-generation operating system was supposed to change everything. It didn't. But it's also never quite gone away.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:03 PM on September 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Unlike the BlackBerry, the iPhone had a fully Internet-capable browser. That meant it would strain the networks of wireless companies like AT&T Inc., something those carriers hadn’t previously allowed. RIM by contrast used a rudimentary browser that limited data usage.

“I said, ‘How did they get AT&T to allow [that]?’ Mr. Lazaridis recalled in the interview at his Waterloo office. “ ‘It’s going to collapse the network.’ And in fact, some time later it did.”


Such a fine line between innovation and what the fuck. RIM could never compete with Apple's vision-slash-vertical integration. Mr. Laziridis - Consumption drives markets, not networks.

That being said, I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop at Cupertino for some years now, without much success. I mean, iOS7 is nothing short of a critically-acclaimed UI disaster. Meanwhile, Facebook's stock has quietly doubled. Some companies can just do no wrong.
posted by phaedon at 11:09 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


These are the sorts of cases they should examine in business school. Failure is often the best teacher. When you see how others fail you get a free lesson.
posted by quadog at 11:10 PM on September 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some companies can just do no wrong.

Funny. I heard the exact same thing said about RIM 3-4 years ago.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:11 PM on September 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


iOS7 is nothing short of a critically-acclaimed UI disaster

Have you used it, or are you going by hearsay? Not a single iPhone user I know would go back to iOS6 if you paid them, me included.
posted by thedaniel at 11:30 PM on September 29, 2013 [36 favorites]


Not that I'm a mod or anything, but maybe we can avoid an iOS usability derail and all the usual related arguments.
posted by modernnomad at 11:32 PM on September 29, 2013 [19 favorites]


Damn, you're right. I regret chiming in on that. BACK TO BLACKBERRY
posted by thedaniel at 11:38 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Never used a Blackberry, but I supported corporate users who did, and you couldn't pry those devices from their cold, dead hands. (Then again, this was pre-iPhone era.) And looking even at this article it doesn't look like Blackberry really ended up making bad decisions -- some of them were obviously bold and even laudable risk-taking -- as much as just being late to market with what ended up being also-ran technology in a space they no longer fully understood. They had a hardware lock-in monopoly, but that also locked them into solutions that wouldn't interfere with their bread-and-butter business. I wonder if they had tried to bifurcate the business more clearly -- corporate here, consumer there -- whether they might still at least be relevant.
posted by dhartung at 11:47 PM on September 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder whether there was actually anything RIM could have done to avoid failure. It seems like a choose-your-own adventure where every path ends in either quick or slow failure, but failure nonetheless.

1) The market for semi-smart phones with keyboards is drying up. If you want to stay the course and continue making phones with physical keyboards, go to (2). If you want to switch focus to touch devices, go to (3). If you want to try both at the same time, go to (10). If you have a completely radical, think-outside-the-box plan, go to (11).

2) You have lost all consumer market share. Your corporate customer base is whittled away year by year. You wither away. [SLOW FAILURE]

3) What operating system do you want to use? If you want to keep what you already have, go to (4). If you want to develop a new OS, go to (5). If you want to switch to Android, go to (6). If you want to try some combination of these options, go to (10).

4) Consumers are unhappy with your oudated operating system. Corporate customers are unhappy with touch-screens and just generally unhappy with change. Few developers write apps for your phones. You lose all market share. [QUICK FAILURE]

5) You spend a year rushing the development of your OS, all the while hemorrhaging money. Do you release your buggy OS now (go to (8)), or wait and polish it more (go to (9))?

6) You release your Android-based touch-screen phone into an already crowded marketplace. Consumers are not impressed with the price. Nobody is impressed by the features. Corporate customers are unhappy with change. But you still manage to sell a few units. [SLOW FAILURE]

7) Your radical plan succeeds! I don't know how you did it, but you've revolutionized the mobile phone. You are the pride of Canada. Google, Apple, and Microsoft look upon your works and despair. [UNEQUIVOCAL SUCCESS]

8) Your fledgling OS is roundly rejected by critics, consumers, and corporate customers alike. Unsold phones languish in warehouses, and eventually you have to bury them in the desert like toxic waste. Needless to say, [QUICK FAILURE].

9) Your board is unhappy with the fact that you are leaking money like some kind of metaphor that leaks money. You have to release something now. Go to (8).

10) You tried to hedge your bets by pursuing several strategies at once. Nobody knows what's going on. Your board has arguments with itself. There are high-profile resignations. Go back and make a real choice, but upgrade whatever failure you eventually get by one category (SLOW->QUICK, QUICK->IMMEDIATE).

11) It didn't work. [QUICK FAILURE, EVERYONE LAUGHS AT YOU]
posted by Pyry at 12:04 AM on September 30, 2013 [186 favorites]


Have you used it, or are you going by hearsay? Not a single iPhone user I know would go back to iOS6 if you paid them, me included.

Right? If I'm going to criticize iOS7, I must be relying on hearsay. Or something. Don't worry, I'm not going to die on this hill. I've seen enough Apple ships sail without my blessing. You have a tits Retina monitor getting all the press, you're an old-school douche for bringing up the soldered RAM and proprietary SSD's. Let's not even talk about how features like AirDrop and AirPlay have been rolled out in such a way that basically requires you having the latest iteration of whatever Apple product you plan on using it with. Coincidence?! I get it, it's the price of innovation. I'm not altogether against it. I'm keeping real quiet on the Darth Pro. We'll see how it pans out.

Anyway, back to RIM. Truth be told, I haven't even seen a picture of a Z10. At this point, I'm just relying on the media to remind me how shit anything RIM makes is. They could've released the Hand of God and it still would be sitting on the shelf.

Back to iOS7, I'll let this tumblr make the UI case for me. Do yourself a favor and don't look at the link if you love iOS7 because the flat icons are da bomb! And take it easy with the insolence, trust me, I spared you by not making this into a FPP.
posted by phaedon at 12:05 AM on September 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's an interesting link there Blazecock Pileon. I was just thinking, when looking at some random project on SourceForge a couple of days ago, that it was so old that it still had an OS/2 port, and that probably someone still used it.

However, that Time article is annoying. Three pages, and the interesting stuff, the places where OS/2 is still used, are half of the last page, despite the article promising it'll tell me that OS/2 has never really gone away. Thanks, Time, for giving me a history of the platform filling 5/6ths of the article.
posted by JHarris at 12:08 AM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Never used a Blackberry, but I supported corporate users who did, and you couldn't pry those devices from their cold, dead hands. (Then again, this was pre-iPhone era.)

It's that last sentence that's really the key. At my office we're required to have smartphones so we can access email while out of the office. All employees are issued a free Blackberry with unlimited minutes/data plus international calling capabilities. Alternatively, we can pay out of pocket for an iPhone and eat the cost of any data overages or international calls. My IT guy has a drawer full of unwanted Blackberry Bolds in his office, and just about every PC here has an iPhone charger connected to it.

I was one of the last Blackberry holdouts, but I threw in the towel after the phone bricked on me on a business trip to Hong Kong.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 12:12 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the blackberry pearl was their first truly consumer oriented device including a camera which precluded its use in various settings where you might otherwise encounter blackberry users. I didn't like its two letter per key physical keyboard layout having suffered with the similar 7100 keyboard and waited for the curve, which had a halfway decent camera and served as a decent music player albeit limited to 2GB. They continued making no-camera devices at least for awhile but they should've cone up with ways to compartmentalize the business and personal division on the device which is becoming a thing now what with BYOD and other buzzronyms. It pains me to type this out at a perfectly reasonable pace using an Android phone with SwiftKey when years into it, the touchscreen keyboard experience still feels awkward, like eating with chopsticks except the tips are wrapped in duct tape. In fact typing this sucked pretty bad due to the keyboard plus some fucking wrap glitch in the browser I'm using and I'm wistful for my old 8300 Curve or the much older fat tank model the ID of which currently eludes me. Had the Q10 dropped first I may have tried it after my stint with HTC but I'm with Samsung now. The Z10 touch screen keyboard is good and innovative but everyone I knew who actually wanted a blackberry at the time was looking for the physical keyboard. Going back the Storm was utter shit in its day to be sure.
posted by lordaych at 12:14 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


BBM, said that with built-in capabilities to have group chats, share photos, calendar items and other features, “it really takes BBM to a whole other level … I believe there is an opportunity for a dominant player in instant messaging and there will be one winner-take-all.”

This sounds like a pitch by a startup with 10 employees, not a giant company with 10,000.
posted by benzenedream at 12:17 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder whether there was actually anything RIM could have done to avoid failure. It seems like a choose-your-own adventure where every path ends in either quick or slow failure, but failure nonetheless.

There was but it required far too much tech understanding from a CEO and would have required the system for the engineers who had a clue on why the iPhone was so responsive to get to those key decision makers.

The first priority should have been putting the old Blackberry UI on QNX, getting a hardware compositing engine and Java VM working and getting a phone with a GPU out the door. That solves 90% of the problems with responsiveness that caused the Storm to be an absolute fucking abortion and allows third party devs to continue with the old way for a while while said devs adapt to the QNX world.

The second priority should have been buying Swype the second they launched that tech demo and locking their tech up. It would have been the Blackberry keyboard for the touch generation instead of an Android licensing afterthought.

The third priority should have been combining all this cool shit and getting it out the door in 2009 instead of hurridly making a half-assed response to the iPhone in 2008.
posted by Talez at 12:21 AM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I own a Blackberry Bold 9700 that is now coming up on 4 years of service, and I'm damned sure that I will not buy another personal phone until this one dies. For the last year and a half I've had whatever the newest, fanciest iPhone is handed to me gratis for work, and I duly nod and smile, suffer through it for a month or two, then cave and spend my own money to use my scratched-up 9700 as my work machine instead.

More than loyalty, it comes down to physical ability - I have an essential tremor that effectively, if not totally, precludes the use of a touch screen. I genuinely don't know what I'll do when Blackberry dies, because it's becoming harder and harder to find a manufacturer that sticks by the idea of a physical keyboard. It's why I've already purchased a Q10 that I have no intention of using until my 9700 dies. It feels awful.
posted by ZaphodB at 12:22 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Agreed on the iOS derail. To be fair, I appreciate it would be silly to have a discussion about RIM's history and products and not be able to factor a notable competitor's products into it; however, considering the linked article's depth it would seem a wasted opportunity to me if all we did here was retread well-cased territory re: iOS. Perhaps a fair enough compromise could be to suggest we at least try to address the article or the issues raised therein.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:29 AM on September 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I wonder whether there was actually anything RIM could have done to avoid failure.

They could have had a spine. Apart from the discussions about keyboard and touchscreens, what set Blackberry apart was it's supposed rock-solid security. RIM's proprietary VPN was supposed to make it the gold standard for business e-mail.

Then recall that in 2010 Saudi Arabia threatened to ban the use of the Blackberry unless RIM gave these governments access to RIM's central server.

"The U.A.E. then said it may suspend BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web browsing services in October because of concern the devices could be used in crimes. Days earlier, an official in India said that country may ban BlackBerry e-mail use. Indonesia may block some services because of security concerns unless RIM sets up a server and office in Jakarta, Heru Sutadi, a telecommunication regulatory body member, said today, without specifying which services could be affected." Egypt quickly followed.

Running scared, RIM "made concessions" to all of these countries in and lost its reputation for security.

I think this is what ultimately killed them. All they really had to offer was security and they gave it away and no amount of innovation could have changed that.
posted by three blind mice at 12:39 AM on September 30, 2013 [17 favorites]


More than loyalty, it comes down to physical ability - I have an essential tremor that effectively, if not totally, precludes the use of a touch screen. I genuinely don't know what I'll do when Blackberry dies, because it's becoming harder and harder to find a manufacturer that sticks by the idea of a physical keyboard. It's why I've already purchased a Q10 that I have no intention of using until my 9700 dies. It feels awful.

Why don't you just get a slideout keyboard case for an iPhone/Galaxy/smartphone of your choice?
posted by Talez at 12:56 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Me and my dad often talk about tech i've owned, briefly owned and dumped, or just used enough to really talk about. We like to joke about the stuff that really feels like it's either the refrigerator sized tv with a 6 inch screen of that tech, or the totally weird CED/turbine car type stuff that's just something like a Homer or utterly missing the mark.

A lot of those sorts of products always felt like user-last designs. Like the entire thing was an engineers wank session with a UI bolted on as an afterthought simply so you could use the laser canons and automated pancake maker that were totally the point of the thing, duh with any real usability testing or concerns being waved away.

Everything blackberry ever made felt like that to me. And i'm not even including more than a bit of the too easy potshots like this fucking unholy homunculus because that's just fish in a barrel. No, i think that something was fucking wrong at the core of the whole thing. In the same way, and for the same reasons that you don't let programmers do UI design.

I was always a big fan of palm, and had one in some capacity since the mid 90s when i was in the single digit age range. Compared to everything else at the time they were pretty spot on to where smartphones in general went(which is to say, copy apples evolved paradigm of the old palm setup with the iphone and run with it). Everything from the trackball/scroll wheel interface to how a lot of things were laid out just felt like someone had the idea and since they created it it made sense to them and they didn't get anyone to test it, or didn't listen to them if they did.

100% of their products just utterly failed the mom test. You had to be shown how to use them, or extremely stubbornly trial and error if-then your way through the thing. Stuff like the storms tap to select, but click to actually click screen is a perfect example of this. There's some weird level of intellectual dishonestly to the design in a "do as i say, not as i do" sort of way where it breaks the connection of "if i do this, this will happen" that gets established in your mind. Do i need to click here? or just tap. Do i need to have the clicker held in while i do this? or can i just rest my finger on it and slide. Nothing was consistent with that.

That sort of inconsistency and just generally confusing schizoid design was incredibly commonplace in all computer software in the 90s, and all smartphone software pre 2007. Don't get me wrong here, windows mobile was a heap of shit as well. And PalmOS, while decent, always felt like the phone bit was a shoehorned in afterthought along with pretty much anything related to it not just being a PDA(I could tell a really funny story about the camera app breaking and creating a "bottomless pit" of corrupted data and tens of thousands of photos here...).

It's just that iOS, and to a lesser extent android and even windows phone 7(and webOS!) stepped forward and went "Hey, even though that's the default and the toll you expect to pay to get on the INFORMATION SUPER HIGHWAY OF THE FUTURE and use these star trek phones... it doesn't have to be fucking moronic like that. You can slam dunk all that bullshit into the garbage can. It's not a cost of doing business, it's completely optional".

While i hitched a ride on that train, many friends kept using their blackberries. The numbers slowly dwindled but quite a few held out defiantly. Replacing their trackballs and batteries, maybe upgrading to a slightly newer model here and there.

The blackberry OS just started to feel in comparison like an extremely exaggerated pantomime of how windows 9X/ME felt in the face of 2000, and later XP. It was obviously last generation.

And that software was displayed on a crappy, low resolution screen. Look at this, seriously. They were selling those alongside phones like this and the iPhone 4. It felt like one of the bizarre situations in which a car maker continues to push on producing an outdated model way past it's shelf life(like for instance, the crown victoria) or something.

They had powerful CPUs, but paltry ram and tiny screens. Things handled with aplomb by other concurrent phones like web browsing completely choked. Even back in the iphone 3g days around 2008-9 this feeling couldn't be escaped. Apps were starting to become a huge thing, rather than something nerds sideloaded onto their windows mobile phones in the old days(or that a work provided phone would come pre-installed with). None of them were showing up on the blackberry.

I don't even really know where i was going with this, my train of thought got derailed. But my point was pretty much that all blackberry had going for them ever was "we suck less than the other guy i guess" not "our stuff is great". When several companies actually stepped up with stuff that didn't just work, i guess but was actually compellingly interesting and designed to be used by actual humans who wanted more than scrolling through email with a wheel and replying with a somewhat irritating keyboard they were fucking hosed.
posted by emptythought at 1:03 AM on September 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


Commodore, Atari, Nokia, Blackberry, SGI, Sun, DEC and so many other companies seem to go this way. A few great products, huge success or dominance and then collapse. Sticking to the success of old seems to kill lots of places.

Really, perhaps the weird ones are the ones that somehow mutate and survive like Apple, MS, IBM & Intel who are still going. At least for now.
posted by sien at 1:19 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Until a month back (thanks, random corporate direction change announced while I was on vacation!) I worked deep in Toronto's financial heart. To a man, the old captain-of-industry guys (and it was all guys; Bay St is still a sausage party) would reserve 15 minutes a day to rant about how they didn't get a phone without a keyboard, what were the young 'uns thinking, etc. There was enough of an echo chamber that no dissenting opinion was heard. They still all believed the urban myth that BBMs ("PIN me!", you still occasionally heard) were secure and more importantly, not archived on any server, so they'd happily go off and do their insider stuff on their 'personal' Blackberries.
posted by scruss at 1:30 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Running scared, RIM "made concessions" to all of these countries in and lost its reputation for security.

I think this is what ultimately killed them. All they really had to offer was security and they gave it away and no amount of innovation could have changed that.


First of all, very few people actually cared about that or remember it now. That might be unfortunate, but that's life.

Second, those concessions neither did nor could apply to corporate BBs, only consumer ones. Corporate BlackBerry data is stored unencrypted on the company's own server but consumer data was stored by RIM centrally which means they could be pressured into disclosing it.
posted by atrazine at 1:40 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I figure RIM could have maybe survived, as a smaller, but profitable company if they had jumped on Android early. Port the messaging stuff, give people keyboards if they want them, but also have all the games and things people were beginning to expect in a smartphone for free from the Android ecosystem. In the early days post-iPhone that might have been enough to keep people on board. As it was, people where happy to ditch the Blackberry bits for the other smart phone stuff, and was they had switched why would they go back?
posted by markr at 2:12 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


benzenedream: "BBM, said that with built-in capabilities to have group chats, share photos, calendar items and other features, “it really takes BBM to a whole other level … I believe there is an opportunity for a dominant player in instant messaging and there will be one winner-take-all.”

This sounds like a pitch by a startup with 10 employees, not a giant company with 10,000.
"

I'll believe it when I can use a BBM compatible client on a desktop. Don't currently have a BB (miss my old company one), but do have an ex (still on good terms with) with one and it would make life a little easier contacting her. (She won't answer her phone at work and refuses to empty her VM box which is full.)
posted by Samizdata at 2:39 AM on September 30, 2013


Previously
posted by ardgedee at 2:46 AM on September 30, 2013


I also tend to think one of the reason RIM died was they basically lost sight of what made them who they were in the first place - a first class business communications provider. As soon as they started spinning stuff to the consumers, the business folks stopped having "their" device, which help precipitate the exodus to BYOD. In addition, by exerting master control over things and having major outages, they tossed out their other claim to fame in that same business world.

On the other hand, F*CK YOU, PALM, AND ROT IN HELL.

As a PalmOS fan and purchaser since the Handspring days (I know, not a REAL Palm, but you think I am giving up expansion slots?), and when my beloved T|X FINALLY died, I had to find out that all the money I had leveraged in PalmOS apps was going out the door?? Seriously? PalmPhones ONLY? I DO NOT WANT A PALMPHONE, I WANT MY BELOVED PDA BACK, JERKWADS!

Not to be vindictive or anything, but you screw long term fans like me like that, well, business failure couldn't happen to better people...
posted by Samizdata at 2:47 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Corporate BlackBerry data is stored unencrypted on the company's own server but consumer data was stored by RIM centrally which means they could be pressured into disclosing it.

The data on RIM enterprise servers is encrypted.

The issue wasn't entreprise though, RIM had a large market share amongst youth in many countries because of attractive pricing on Blackberry Messenger services. When it became apparent that RIM was working hand-in-glove with security agencies in various countries, they lost whatever cool they had.
posted by three blind mice at 2:49 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another big mistake was not incorporating in the United States because then they could have whined about being "too big to fail..." and the American taxpayer would have had to bail them out.
posted by Renoroc at 3:28 AM on September 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


The BBM service makes them still really popular with schoolkids - if I am on a bus during the school run (I live in London) and a kid pulls out a phone, it's almost always a Blackberry. (Maybe it's also cheaper and easier to get hold of than an iPhone as well?) Hence the London riots being blamed on Blackberry messaging.
posted by mippy at 4:01 AM on September 30, 2013


I was weirdly excited for BlackBerry's big comeback. All that excitement went away as soon as I saw the Z10.

I loved my old BlackBerry Curve. I loved the keyboard. I loved the little scrolly-ball. I loved how it had no bells or whistles - it just worked as a phone and worked as an email device, with some "good enough" web browsing built in as well.

BlackBerry could have offered something different from other smartphones, but instead, they just tried to be like everybody else. And it was a resounding failure.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:02 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


When it comes to business, my focus has usually been on American companies, (though Honda and a few other Japanese outfits wiggle in sometimes.)

The failure of American railroads to define themselves as transportation companies reminds me most of RIM. Google and Amazon remind me of RCA, the visionary child of Westinghouse and GE which invented the radio market, the network, color TV, FM radio and tried to capture mainframe computing but which failed spectacularly every 10 years and lost hundreds of millions of dollars, never getting really profitable, despite acquiring and diversifying randomly (Hertz, NBC, Bantam Books, a frozen food company, etc.)

RIM = RCA. and maybe so does Dell, MS, HP, and who wants to type all the other failed PC outfits. (Before you scream, I am using a Dell/Win7 box!)

While all of this froth is boiling... all volume and no substance, Apple is over in the corner, doing things my MBA said were improbable/impossible. Successive successes. Redefining markets. Innovating huge infrastructures. Transforming society. Capturing the revenue streams of entire companies and industries. Taking over the world with a unified business. Assembling a financial war chest dwarfing many countries. Flush enough with cash to take control of any competitor, just by hostile takeover, even if it doesn't do it. Insinuating itself into the language, culture, daily existence of multitudes, virtually overnight. Fanatically loyal customers, sticky and rich, who give up choice like Americans give up freedom, with only token objections and grudging acceptance of the tradeoffs.

Say what you want about the products/services/OS. But do not deny for a moment, if you be a serious student of corporate history, that this Apple beast is a new creature. An invasive species you can dislike, but are powerless to defeat. One badass little outfit.

Against it, RIM was a fly, loose in a shoebox with a hungry frog.
posted by FauxScot at 5:14 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


No mention of the bad image BlackBerrys got from being the preferred phone of asshole Gordon Gekko types?
posted by octothorpe at 5:20 AM on September 30, 2013


The failure of American railroads to define themselves as transportation companies reminds me most of RIM. Google and Amazon remind me of RCA, the visionary child of Westinghouse and GE which invented the radio market, the network, color TV, FM radio and tried to capture mainframe computing but which failed spectacularly every 10 years and lost hundreds of millions of dollars, never getting really profitable, despite acquiring and diversifying randomly (Hertz, NBC, Bantam Books, a frozen food company, etc.)

RIM = RCA. and maybe so does Dell, MS, HP, and who wants to type all the other failed PC outfits.


Sorry, can you clarify this? RIM reminds you of failed railroads or of RCA? Or both? Why does Google and Amazon also remind you of RCA if RCA failed spectacularly, when Google and Amazon have not yet failed or show signs of doing so?

I'm not at all trying to be snarky here - I think there may be some interesting points you are trying to make, but I'm having troubling unpacking them.
posted by modernnomad at 5:25 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm gonna cross-post something from Hacker News and my apologies to @wallflower for stealing his post but since he was quoting an anonymous RIM engineer I figured it would be okay here....

WallFlower: 3 years ago, an ex-RIM engineer posted on a well-known Internet forum called ShackNews about his insider perspective. It was immediately deleted by him - but not before making the rounds of the tech blogs (in excerpts).

The money quote is that RIM thought the iPhone was impossible... It was not just beyond business scope - it was beyond their worldview.


xRIM: "You guys could have avoided this entire conversation by just defining what Apple created as something more than a smartphone. What we call a smartphone today is a rather different than what was meant when the term was first coined.

The first smartphone was pretty much the Nokia Communicator back in the late 90s. It had data connectivity and some limited ability to run applications, and that pretty much what a smartphone was at the time. Today we take it to mean handheld wireless computer that happens to have a phone, but back then if you send a few packets you were a smartphone.

I was hired by RIM in 1999 just before they began work on their first phone and spent a good number years writing RIM proprietary protocol stacks that layered on top of the then new GPRS. Coming from a two-way pager background, RIM decided that phones should have two-way push synchronization of pretty much everything that Exchange provided along with a limited WML browser. The general thought was that phones would never have sufficient power density or radios sufficient bandwidth to allow anything more. That was incredibly predictably wrong, but it's how things went down.

Along with RIM was Ericsson, Palm, Motorola, and Qualcomm. Motorola came from a similar background as RIM and went on to build very similar devices. Both Nokia and Ericsson had come from phones and had decided feature phones should have far more sophisticated PDA functions. Palm started with PDAs then moved to the phones, but adamantly dismissed ideas like wireless synchronization for years making their first attempts at smart phone far more like early Nokia Communicators than early Blackberrys. Oddly enough, though Nokia made the first smartphone, which was followed by two more with RIM and arguably Palm in 20002, it was Ericsson that popularly coined the term in the mid 2000s.

So the point is that all these companies were fighting over what amounts to overgrown PDAs with phones and wireless stacks strapped on. Everyone assumed power density was no where even close to what was needed for general computing, that a full featured browser and heavy duty Internet services were impossible due to bandwidth and latency. Take a look at how our Java expert groups named standards, how people at the time talked about what features smart phones should have, and its clear that no one thought an iPhone was possible. Even Danger, which eventually went on to work on to create Windows Phone 7 and Android, was just working on a better Blackberry.

The iPhone did many amazing things, but what stands out in my mind was how it proved that these assumptions were flat-out wrong beyond any reasonable doubt. Apple pretty gave everyone the finger and said, "Fuck you guys we can build your distant impossible future today."

I left RIM back in 2006 just months before the IPhone launched and I remember talking to friends from RIM and Microsoft about what their teams thought about it at the time. Everyone was utterly shocked. RIM was even in denial the day after the iPhone was announced with all hands meets claiming all manner of weird things about iPhone: it couldn't do what they were demonstrating without an insanely power hungry processor, it must have terrible battery life, etc. Imagine their surprise when they disassembled an iPhone for the first time and found that the phone was battery with a tiny logic board strapped to it. It was ridiculous, it was brilliant.

I really don't think you're giving Apple enough credit here.

They did something amazing that many very prominent people in the industry thought was either impossible or at least a decade away, and they did it in a disgustingly short time frame."
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:25 AM on September 30, 2013 [38 favorites]


It's not so much Blackberry's eventual failure that requires explanation as its original success.
posted by Segundus at 5:33 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I loved my old BlackBerry Curve. I loved the keyboard. I loved the little scrolly-ball. I loved how it had no bells or whistles - it just worked as a phone and worked as an email device, with some "good enough" web browsing built in as well.

BlackBerry could have offered something different from other smartphones, but instead, they just tried to be like everybody else. And it was a resounding failure.


Dude, there's just not enough of you. The percentage of people who want a super simple phone with just three core functions and are willing to pay for a data plan for that is just dwarfed by the number who are going to want all the bells and whistles if they're going to be ponying up extra. And if they're not willing to pony up, then they're probably perfectly happy with a flip phone or a sidekick. The Zen Minimalist/Cheap Bastard market was not going to save RIM.
posted by Diablevert at 5:47 AM on September 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's not so much Blackberry's eventual failure that requires explanation as its original success.

It was a step up from the pagers and SMS delivery that would deliver short messages with no reliability or confirmation. Blackberry offered longer messages and proof of delivery, which businesses loved.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:51 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If we're voting on worst RIM device evar, my vote is for their first clamshell. No, not the 9670- the Inter@ctive Pager, which we (in a giant corporation) were forced to use from around '96-'00. It was such a cheap piece of crap and (IMHO) inferior to the digital two-way wireless device we had been using since 1982. It was so bad that its replacement, the 957- monochrome, with the clickwheel- seemed like a gift from the gods. (Even though it still seemed inferior to the 1982 device)
posted by MtDewd at 5:51 AM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, does Blackberry have any patents worth scooping up in a buyout?
posted by FJT at 5:58 AM on September 30, 2013


I am just amazed they survived for so long. The competition has been both better and cheaper for years now. If they had become an upscale "businessy" Android vendor two or three years ago, with great hardware and add on software, I think they might have survived. But instead they decided to continue offering inferior products at premium prices, while keeping their head in the sand as the market changes around them.
posted by miyabo at 6:00 AM on September 30, 2013


Everyone assumed power density was no where even close to what was needed for general computing, that a full featured browser and heavy duty Internet services were impossible due to bandwidth and latency. Take a look at how our Java expert groups named standards, how people at the time talked about what features smart phones should have, and its clear that no one thought an iPhone was possible. Even Danger, which eventually went on to work on to create Windows Phone 7 and Android, was just working on a better Blackberry.
This is a load of pony. I worked in that industry at the time and everyone I knew saw the MIP/W, kbit/W, and Whr/cm3 future coming. OpenMoko was already long in development and they had a working handset (that made calls) the same month that the iPhone was released. Google had been working on Android for around two years at that point. Yes, the Neo 1973 and kin weren't iPhones in terms of polish, but they were most definitely full-fledged smartphones with browsers and the whole nine yards. Far, far more than PDAs. Everyone in the industry but RIM were scrambling to grab the tail of the wild future that we saw coming.

That a RIM engineer claims they were blind-sided... well, most of the industry people I knew were surprised at how well Apple did it (in particular, how much money they threw at chip design to get the last 20%), but not that they could.
posted by introp at 6:13 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fanatically loyal customers, sticky and rich, who give up choice like Americans give up freedom, with only token objections and grudging acceptance of the tradeoffs.

Say what you want about the products/services/OS.


Haven't you said enough already?
posted by fairmettle at 6:18 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that HTC's collapse doesn't get as much press as RIM/Blackberry's collapse. They're both companies of similar size - HTC has more employees, but similar market capitalization. Actually, HTC has waaay more employees yet waaay less money in the bank. HTC's revenue is collapsing, even after releasing a great product, the One.

HTC and Blackberry have (like everyone else) had to compete with Apple and deal with the disruption Apple brought to the mobile market.

HTC made the switch to Android in 2009, the dawn of the Android age, but even switching to Android has not helped the company. They make a Windows Phone device, but who uses Windows Phone (my wife, does; she has an HTC Windows phone and I have an HTC One)?

Most of HTC's senior management has been fired or departed over the past year. HTC has laid off half of its American staff (a hundred-person marketing team based in Seattle).

I don't think the mobile ecosystem is healthy for anyone outside of Samsung and Apple.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:30 AM on September 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've never owned a Blackberry (I was on the Nokia side of the doomed smartphone makers fence. *sighs, pours one out for my old E71*), but I'll always mourn the death of physical keyboards. My wife has a slider from the last generation and she was waiting for them to announce a slider with BB10, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen.
posted by kmz at 6:32 AM on September 30, 2013


It seems to me that RIM ran into a very basic problem: they owned a specific market segment (business users) and just didn't have to care much about the wider consumer market. That's fine until the day that the popular consumer product can do everything your niche product can do, and better. Once RIM had to compete against Apple based on what people actually liked, they were doomed. because consumer preference just wasn't a space where they'd ever learned to compete.
posted by tyllwin at 6:46 AM on September 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


The plan to push carriers off off SMS and onto BBM is utterly baffling. SMS runs on a control channel that takes little bandwidth and generates enormous profits, especially for subscribers who aren't on a text plan.

What would be the upside to scrapping that in favor of funneling cash to RIM?
posted by dr_dank at 7:00 AM on September 30, 2013


But someone still has to be in Blackberry's place, providing smooth mobile access to giant corporate email and calendar systems. Apple still isn't there yet. There are third-party companies like Good providing that service. Blackberry should have been the first in that category, but they were afraid of cannibalizing their existing business.
posted by miyabo at 7:03 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


RIM was doomed the first day the CEO of (insert big company name here) walked in to his office with an iPhone and handed it to some IT guy and said make it work with my email. RIM was so entrenched with BBS and corporate IT policies that the couldn't see the forest for the trees. Having no real pull with the carriers RIM had no choice but to limit their Web capability. Whereas Apple, front-loaded ATT, and gave them exclusivity, to almost guarantee unbridled network access.
posted by Gungho at 7:08 AM on September 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I loved my Blackberry with a strange passion - it did *precisely* what I needed a phone to do: push email & messaging. It had a nice solid heft to it - the quality of metal vs flimsy plastic. It went everywhere with me for 6 years... an antique, the youngster at the phone store was astonished when I stopped in to see if they stocked new batteries for it, she'd never imagined anyone still used that model.

And then my financial situation changed, and I couldn't afford to live in the BB ecosystem anymore, what with the high monthly fees (yes, you get charged for special data packages if you have a BB) and so, reluctantly, I put my trusty companion away in a drawer and switched to Android. Even the best Android phones feel cheap, crappy and disposable - and I suppose they are; the mantra is "upgrade! upgrade!" and always chase the newest and latest thing. There doesn't seem to be any desire for quality and beauty - just a treadmill of foamy need for the next hot product. None of them will ever inspire the loyalty and fondness I had for my faithful old Blackberry.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 7:09 AM on September 30, 2013


1) . . . go to (11).

[. . . ]

11) It didn't work.


It never does.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:12 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


@modernnomad,

RIM = RCA. and maybe so does Dell, MS, HP, and who wants to type all the other failed PC outfits.

Sorry, can you clarify this? RIM reminds you of failed railroads or of RCA? Or both? Why does Google and Amazon also remind you of RCA if RCA failed spectacularly, when Google and Amazon have not yet failed or show signs of doing so?

Sorry. I was writing fast. RIM reminds me of the railroads in the sense that it focused on its implementation instead of its goal. Had it done otherwise, it might have seen that the path to successful competition was to do better what it was already doing... safely interconnecting its user base with technology, and not getting wrapped up in its existing means of doing so. It had one helluva head start. Remember, in 2009 (4 years ago) it was the fastest growing company in the world according to one of the linked articles. 4 years ago. Likewise, had the railroads been transportation companies, perhaps the big names in shipping and airlines and domestic passenger transport and freight trucking would be railroad names?

Google and Amazon are not failed, but arbitrarily, compared to Apple, their financials are relatively weak (especially Amazon's.) Amazon is in a net loss position. The last time it made a profit, its price to earning ration (p/e) was in the 3000 range. This contrasts to Apple, which if you back out the existing cash balance of 150,000,000,000 dollars... (yes $150 billion), has a P/E in single digits. P/E is usually a rough indicator of market sentiment. In this case and contrast, Apple is priced for failure, and Amazon is priced for perfection. Which company seems more financially successful to you?

Google... profitable, yes, but on air. Yes, they sell something, sort of. But they make nothing tangible. Every now and then, RCA would make a buck. It grew like a weed. It was a behemoth and a bully. I think the Google business model might persist, but it also seems more sensitive to disruption. After all, they sell air... info... product with no substance. Barriers to entry are high, and they have inertia (in a good sense.) Hard to compete with that, but still.... they appear to be using surrogates to fight Apple and they are arming them with Android to do it.... in an attempt to capture something from Apple? What? It isn't profit. It isn't revenue. And it isn't effective. Apple still commands the major profits in the entire chain of mobile, and surrounds it with other profit centers. Google make pennies on transactions, while Apple makes hundreds of dollars and when it kills off competitors, it attaches their former profits.

When I said RCA failed, I didn't mean FAIL as in bankrupt. I meant they failed to capture a target market or to exploit one to best effect and when their failures, like FM radio, color TV and mainframes were tabulated, the losses were huge for the time. RCA went on to be subsumed by its former parent, GE.

Google and Amazon are unlikely to fail in the RIM sense, but they may fail to achieve the levels of profitability Apple hit long ago. To me, the oddest thing about Amazon is that it has been selling promises for a long, long time. Soon, it will be profitable. Sure. It's helping kill off all sorts of competition, but unlike Apple, Amazon does not seem to be capturing the PROFIT stream that goes along with that revenue.

So google and amazon remind me of RCA... vigorous, different, new players in a new commerce, huge impact, maybe unfocused a tad and while plenty big where they are, not in the same league as Apple.

(Purists will rightly criticize this as being comparisons between inappropriately matched companies. To me, they are unified by their prominent positions in an internet economy, not by the nature of the specific markets they address.)

(i'd have written less, but i ran out of time! sorry. gotta go.)
posted by FauxScot at 7:13 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know that looking at the finanicals is the way to go (I was lurking for the RCA story, too) - Looks to me as if Amazon are playing the long game and large lumps of money (instead of plowing profits back into innovation) is not their end game here.
posted by tilde at 7:21 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know much about RIM or Blackberrys, but as it happens I have some personal experience with QNX from long before they bought it. It's an impressive microkernel real-time OS, what you run your space-efficient, mission-critical apps on. It's always a bummer when a desperate, failing company acquires a nice piece of technology in a last-ditch effort, which pretty much never works out.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:24 AM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


This sounds like a pitch by a startup with 10 employees, not a giant company with 10,000.

Yeah, the obsession with RIM lock-in didn't help them. They even sued a messaging app startup competing with RIM. This made a lot of developers say "fuck it" to their platform.

RIM was focusing on the hardware and not on the real success of iPhone which was the App Store. Remember that Jobs originally believed web apps were the future and had to be convinced that native apps were important (after jailbreakers had already proved the concept).

And I liked QNX too! I remember running a demo that had an OS w/ web browser on a single 1.44MB floppy.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:34 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The biggest thing I remember from my Blackberry phase (worked in a job that issued them) was the goddamn scroll-y ball thing would inevitably pick up lint, dirt, and crud from living in my pocket so you'd get into those absurd pre-optical mouse situations where you wanted to scroll but just...couldn't...do it. The iPhone was like a blessing from the gods after that and my Blackjack II (the Blackjack is why I will not do a Windows phone again because oh, god, so terrible).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:51 AM on September 30, 2013


...well, most of the industry people I knew were surprised at how well Apple did it (in particular, how much money they threw at chip design to get the last 20%

Interesting point. Especially the "how much money" part.

Where did Apple get all this cash? iPod.
Where did all the iPod sales come from? Mac owners^H^H^Hwaitaminute.

So think about the alternate universe where Steve Jobs violently nixed the iTunes for Windows project instead of throwing up his hands and saying "screw it, I'm sick of listening to you assholes. Go do whatever the hell you want."
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:56 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


These are the sorts of cases they should examine in business school. Failure is often the best teacher. When you see how others fail you get a free lesson.

I'd be willing to bet this example is entering the business school curriculum RIGHT NOW. There's just so much in this article:
- two CEOs (!!) running different arms of the business
- failure to see the disruptive technology bearing down on them, even while
- consulting current-day gurus about how to innovate!
- the departure of the one exec who seemed to care about product delivery timelines and project management
- etc

I know when I was in grad school we were certainly looking at similar business cases. This one is good because it's happening right now, directly as a result of the types of competition that companies like Apple bring to the market.
posted by gorbichov at 8:00 AM on September 30, 2013


These are the sorts of cases they should examine in business school. Failure is often the best teacher. When you see how others fail you get a free lesson.

I think one of the most interesting things coming out of this thread (and this includes the Steve Jobs anecdotes) is the "fuhrer-prinzip" idea that a single leader (or, in the case of RIM, two co-CEO's) can somehow impose his/her will on a company to respond to, or even create, market conditions.

I suppose Jobs is a real-life example of this, but is it really a good takeaway for technology businesses? To rely on a charismatic leader to impose his/her will?

It seems like Jobs was an outlier, in terms of success, and that perhaps the top-down decision-making process (HTC's Chou and Wang are still around, for example) is not the best way to innovate in a time of rapid technological change.

Then again, I didn't go to MBA school so maybe I'm not that smart.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:13 AM on September 30, 2013


> HTC made the switch to Android in 2009, the dawn of the Android age, but even switching to Android has not helped the company.

They weren't any old early adopter, they made the first Android flagship phone, the Nexus One.

I'm skeptical of the extent to which Android has helped anybody besides the phone carriers. Google expected its revenue to come through embedded advertising but the open-source nature of it allows carriers to circumvent that mechanism. It's been a race to the bottom for the phone manufacturers. We can see how good that's been to the desktop/laptop PC manufacturing sector.

I'd argue that Blackberry would have killed themselves even faster by becoming a premium Android phone maker, competing with, at best, a tuned and slightly nicer version of something already available in two dozen variations at any given time, and it would sacrifice their key appeals to their core business market: Security, auditability, and control. They have literally nothing to gain by this except maybe the ability to continue shipping product with smaller design and develop teams.
posted by ardgedee at 8:26 AM on September 30, 2013


emptythought, the two things you mention (scrolling through email and the keyboard) are areas where BlackBerry actually excelled, so you just kind of sound like a spiteful "never was their customer" type to me. Seriously, scrolling on a touch screen sucked so much ass when I first started playing around with the first-gen iPhone. That experience was horrible compared to the BlackBerry if you actually wanted to do more than show off the front page of the Onion or whatever. A good keyboard, an obscenely long battery life, and a focused, non-kitchen-sink-mentality can actually appeal to a lot of people. If they kept the screens dinky and low-power but bumped up to 4G and kept the battery life to where it used to be (charge once a week or so) I'd want one, and would use a 7" tablet for all of my "full web browsing" nonsense (a handy capability but the explosion of the mobile webspace kind of shoots down the notion that people actually like navigating full-desktop sites on their phones).

They didn't fail out of not embracing high-DPI screens and shit up-front, they failed because they took too long to do exactly that instead of focusing on what made them excel, and suffered a few embarrassing network outages along the way. And the BBM obsession is a stupid wrong-headed example of someone thinking they need to do some vaporware "edgy game-changing thing" that makes no fucking sense outside of the bubble; they just assumed they needed to do something counterintuitive, "disruptive," and "start-up-y." That part read as extremely naive; why would anyone but RIM want to develop that into a cash stream for them?

They effectively mastered push email way ahead of everyone else (and then "Good / Good Link" was more pushed as an option for Pres and non-BB devices), but the requirement to have a BlackBerry Enterprise Server on-site remained an issue for far too long, long after it was necessary. In the beginning they were leading and BES was necessary, then ActiveSync finally stopped sucking horribly and they didn't embrace it until the Z10/Q10 models if I recall correctly. The free BlackBerry Internet Email Service (your_email@xyz.blackberry.net) was actually very reliable and fast, but it sucked that the mailbox was only accessible on your device; you couldn't log into a web portal and read email, and when something was "deleted" it was fuckin' gone.

Scrolling through email was a dream. The device had shortcut keys for moving quickly from page to page, top to bottom, unread to unread, etc. And the keyboards were something you could write a letter to grandma on. I've handled plenty of keyboards including knockoffs like the Motorola BlackJack and then your Palm Pres and Nokias and whatever, and BlackBerry completely killed it on almost every keyboard they cranked out except those stupid "two letters per key" squashed keyboards used on the 7100 and 8100 models.
posted by lordaych at 8:33 AM on September 30, 2013


RIM was doomed the first day the CEO of (insert big company name here) walked in to his office with an iPhone and handed it to some IT guy and said make it work with my email.

Yeah, a few years ago we rolled out a trial of iphone and ipad synchronisation of company email. Within a day of the first partner rolling up to a meeting with his ipad, IT was inundated with requests to join the "trial" from the other partners.

I don't personally let my personal devices and discoverable corporate data so much as look at each other, but I'm definitely in the minority.
posted by atrazine at 8:38 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's becoming harder and harder to find a manufacturer that sticks by the idea of a physical keyboard

There are some Android phones with keyboards: Motorola, LG Enact, etc.

Commodore, Atari, Nokia, Blackberry, SGI, Sun, DEC and so many other companies seem to go this way. A few great products, huge success or dominance and then collapse. Sticking to the success of old seems to kill lots of places.

I worked with Commodore way back in the day and the way they handled their own Amiga system was heartbreaking. Also worked with SGI and when you could get a Windows NT 4 box at a fifth of the price (on average) to run circles around SGI's boxes for 3D work the writing was clearly on the wall, except of course, for SGI.
posted by juiceCake at 8:39 AM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I still like my blackberry and will prolly not switch to anything else mostly because I like the alarm clock on it. I realize this is a fairly ridiculous reason to stay with something but I don't caaaaare.
posted by elizardbits at 8:41 AM on September 30, 2013


That browser. I haven't touched a BlackBerry since 2008 and still get mad when I think about that POS they called a web browser. You could buy an iPhone, activate it and view a web page in less time then it took the BlackBerry to load half the page and choke.
posted by Blue Meanie at 8:46 AM on September 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


You could call a friend with an iPhone and ask them to look it up for you faster than a blackberry browser could load a single damn thing. It's like being back on dial-up.
posted by elizardbits at 8:55 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have a perspective informed by the fact that I led a study to compare security on four different platforms, where we undertook permissions studies and MITM attacks on iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry OS (both pre- and post-QNX) and Android.

(ASIDE: Kik Messenger wasn't attacked as a competitor as much as attacked because of its security. I do not recommend its use.)

Contrary to what folks here have said, I doubt security questions mattered much for the average consumer. Pre-QNX BB OS allowed for extremely fine-grained control over the permissions and data you shared, but it wasn't user-friendly. The Post-QNX OS followed smartphone OS trends and didn't. Basically, the trend for consumers has been "approve and forget." But the pre-QNX OS was crash-prone and not especially user friendly. I will say that the unit looked and felt tough: a wedge of metal you were pretty sure wouldn't screw up.

After examining the Z10 I think the problems were:

1) The hardware was half a generation to a generation behind market leaders like the iPhone and GS3. The Z10 was nice, but not market-leader nice. Due to a lack of vertical integration and capitalization the best they could do wasn't good enough.

2) The distinctive features of the phone were either still wedded to enterprise services and desktop software, or just weren't that important. People are really not that annoyed by having to check Facebook in a dedicated app. They are annoyed by having to pay for secure backups and genuinely cool features like multiple user profiles for work/play.

3) Lack of apps. Android apps should have been been ready for sideload immediately, through a PC helper app. Native apps should have covered all major

4) The smartphone industry is structurally biased against public companies in BB/RIM's position: international but not American or Chinese, with a persistent but not disruptively growing user base, and as a dedicated business, not an MS-style division.

5) The price point. It had pricing comparable to market leaders and wasn't.
posted by mobunited at 8:58 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had always thought that the appeal of the Blackberry was 1) hardware level security (I will admit I don't really know what that means), 2) a very long battery life, and 3) the ability to manage its critical functions with very little bandwidth. In other words, if you needed to be 100% damn sure you were going to get your email even in the 40th hour of negotiations in Kazakhstan, the Blackberry was the obvious and best choice. Sadly for RIM, there just aren't that many people who are both that important and travel that widely, and Hillary Clinton can't hold up an entire device market by herself.
posted by KathrynT at 9:09 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suppose Jobs is a real-life example of this, but is it really a good takeaway for technology businesses? To rely on a charismatic leader to impose his/her will?

It seems like Jobs was an outlier, in terms of success, and that perhaps the top-down decision-making process (HTC's Chou and Wang are still around, for example) is not the best way to innovate in a time of rapid technological change.
I think that Apple's engineers get short shrift in this accounting. Jobs didn't set out to create the iPhone, he set out to create the iPad, and stumbled upon the iPhone along the way. This is an important distinction, as they were starting from a 'full computer' idea and paring it down, rather than starting at a phone and trying to build it up. This has drastic consequences on the engineering side, because, hey, why not keep a full virtual memory system if you already have it? It's an entirely different mindset than where RIM was coming from.

Apple had intimate knowledge of the most efficient real-world web browser, WebKit/Safari. Google hadn't even released WebKit/Chrome yet! Apple had a full Unix system, that they could pare down to run efficiently on an ARM processor. Perhaps even more important, they had the graphics expertise to build super-fast animations into the OS power efficiently, and to respond with minimal latency. A while back, the Android community was a bit abuzz about how good iOS was on this, I'm sure they've caught up now, but to do this back in 2007 was mind blowing.

And the iPod had given Apple unparalleled device skills from the engineering side to the supply channel side, due to their massive size.

The iPhone was an engineering marvel, mostly on the software side, with a few bits of key hardware bundled in so smoothly that most people didn't even realize that it was new technology. I used to say that Microsoft should have delivered the iPhone and iPad instead of Apple, but I hadn't really done an inventory of Apple's technical engineering assets, and I don't think anyone at Microsoft would dare challenge the Windows or even Mobile Windows division with something like iOS. And they couldn't do it, unless they controlled the exact hardware that went into it too.

RIM did not stand a chance on the technology side, as they were just standing in the wrong place, holding the wrong set of tools, and it was going to take them a long time to pick up the new ones. The only question was what the market wanted, did people really want to buy iPhones? Did they really want to surf the web everywhere? Or did they just want to do email, the way they were used to, with Blackberry?
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:10 AM on September 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just wonder how many mobile manufacturers will be left when it comes time for me to buy my next phone. HTC won't be around, which leaves Samsung and Apple...
posted by KokuRyu at 9:26 AM on September 30, 2013


All they really had to offer was security and they gave it away and no amount of innovation could have changed that.

According to Der Spiegel, they didn't really have that, at least with respect to intelligence agencies. As an American, your data would be traversing an international border and would thus be subject to additional scrutiny.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:35 AM on September 30, 2013


All these people with industry experience chiming in. This thread obviously needs my layabout casual outside observer experience to set them all straight! Heh.

ardgedee: I'm skeptical of the extent to which Android has helped anybody besides the phone carriers.

Well....

Someone else here brought up how the Blackberry's web browser sucks, how the iPhone's browser rocks over it in every way. The thing is, writing a web browser from scratch is very hard. People's experiences with what "acceptable" means has been shaped by over a decade of Mosaic, Navigator, Internet Explorer, Opera, Mozilla, Firefox, Chrome and Safari's improvements on design, page layout and rendering, Javascript utility and performance, and undoubtedly other aspects that don't spring to mind. If you're not building off of their efforts directly in the form of code, you're going to have to throw a lot of developer resources at the problem to catch up with all the effort they've put into advancing what the public now sees as acceptable baseline performance out of a web browser.

The iPhone's browser is Safari, which is basically Webkit, which is open source, and in fact a fork of KHTML. Apple basically took an open source project and adapted it to their own needs. They've gone far afterwards, but they were able to take a public baseline forward, and thus save themselves a lot of effort. And that itself helped Google with the Webkit-using Chrome (and thus the Android browser), which if memory serves has now forked itself off of that base. It uses its own Javascript engine, but a web browser is a lot more than just a scripting engine.

Writing an operating system is also hard. Android is similar to Webkit in that it's a public base of code that helps other companies reach a baseline of performance and features with a lot less effort than coding it all up from scratch. Which is what Apple themselves did, again, when they adapted FreeBSD into Darwin. Blackberry could have taken Android as an OS base and thrown out the UI, the Launcher, everything user-visible about it, just taken advantage of Android's wide processor support and peripheral support. It wouldn't look like Android, but maybe that's what they'd want, maybe their UI vision, like Apple did with FreeBSD, doesn't jive with the original project's perceptions. They wouldn't even have to play up the Android angle -- it's not like Apple goes out of their way to tell everyone Webkit is a fork of KHTML in advertising.

Android appears to help the major cell phone carriers the most right now because they're in the best position, with their many and varied specialized hardware platforms, to take advantage of it. But it helps them to produce things to compete with Apple's baseline of features without throwing resources at the problem, and those are things that other companies can uses themselves. Android is starting to be seen as something more than just a mobile platform, with things like Ouya using it. And yeah, Ouya is slow to catch on and has problems, but it's something that wouldn't even be possible without Android. And I did say starting. Give it some time. It makes some weird things possible that haven't been completely figured out yet. And some of those things might matter to mobile.
posted by JHarris at 9:41 AM on September 30, 2013


BlackBerry failed because of BlackBerry, but the fact that the iPhone could connect to Exchange starting in 2008 was the biggest nail in the coffin. This let average users access work email from a non-work device for the first time ever, and was the advent of BYOD, wether IT departments wanted it or not. With IT departments nolonger exclusively choosing user devices, BlackBerry lost the ace up its sleeve. Power to the user!
posted by furtive at 9:47 AM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I still like my blackberry and will prolly not switch to anything else mostly because I like the alarm clock on it.

That makes perfect sense to me. It really does.
posted by marxchivist at 10:06 AM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Have you used it, or are you going by hearsay? Not a single iPhone user I know would go back to iOS6 if you paid them, me included.

They are iPhone users. To get them to revert you would have to get them to pay at least twice what those other people would pay.
posted by srboisvert at 10:50 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's voice search (for web) like on the iPhone? Last week Google finalized the rollout of a new algorithm called "Hummingbird", and voice search on an Android mobile is really good now.

I introduced my parents to Google voice search using the Chrome browser on their iPads, and they loved it.

My assumption, though, is Siri is better.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:11 AM on September 30, 2013


emptythought: "A lot of those sorts of products always felt like user-last designs. Like the entire thing was an engineers wank session ....
100% of their products just utterly failed the mom test.
"

OMG! I just realized: Blackberry is the HP calculator (with RPN!) of the 2000s.
"How do I do (simple task)?"
"Ah, you just do this, but first you do this (seemingly unrelated thing that makes sense if you spend enough time learning what the system expects of you)"
"But, why?"
"Because it makes life easier for the machine!"
posted by IAmBroom at 11:14 AM on September 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm skeptical of the extent to which Android has helped anybody besides the phone carriers.

It did for Google the same thing that Chrome and Firefox (largely Google funded) did, prevent another company wedging itself between them and their user base. Google used to have a vision where everyone would access their software through the browser, when it looked like people were switching to dedicated apps on smartphones and tablets (in a sense, a return to the native applications that dominated computers before the move towards everything-is-a-website) they got into that game.

They don't need to make money from Android, just prevent a single manufacturer from being able to remove google maps from the entire smartphone market rather than just quite a chunk of it.
posted by atrazine at 11:25 AM on September 30, 2013


I just did a little checking. We're discussing poor old Uncle Blackberry as though he hasn't been a corpse for years now. He's never been the same since that accident in late August of 2007, and died in mid-2011.

What in hell happened the week ending August 24, 2007?
posted by IAmBroom at 11:26 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Until a month back (thanks, random corporate direction change announced while I was on vacation!) I worked deep in Toronto's financial heart. To a man, the old captain-of-industry guys (and it was all guys; Bay St is still a sausage party) would reserve 15 minutes a day to rant about how they didn't get a phone without a keyboard, what were the young 'uns thinking, etc. There was enough of an echo chamber that no dissenting opinion was heard.

A decade ago, you could have been in Michigan and heard the same sort of people rant about how there is no good reason to own a hybrid car (which were all made by the Japanese). That thinking didn't help the Detroit automakers either. I think that reasoning comes from the same part of the brain that allows certain people to rationalize global warming denial.
posted by riruro at 11:27 AM on September 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Llama-Lime: I used to say that Microsoft should have delivered the iPhone and iPad instead of Apple, but I hadn't really done an inventory of Apple's technical engineering assets, and I don't think anyone at Microsoft would dare challenge the Windows or even Mobile Windows division with something like iOS.

The story that I'd heard was that the Windows division was as responsible as anyone for the slow strangulation of things like the Zune and the Kin, and also responsible for WinCE/Pocket PC/Windows Mobile being too Windows-like. I was (and, to some extent, still am) my library's PDA/mobile support person, and I used to groan inwardly whenever someone would ask for support with one of those wretched things. I also noted with some amusement that for at least a couple of years, Microsoft would fly some of the then-more-prominent gadget bloggers to Seattle for a weekend junket where they'd be wined and dined and entertained and given a backpack stuffed full of toys, including a PDA using MS' latest version of Pocket PC... and the bloggers would still be underwhelmed (in a polite sort of way) by it, and go back to using their Palm device. MS could have absolutely crushed Palm and BB back when Apple was still strictly in the music player business, and their failure to come up with something halfway decent was mind-boggling.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:37 AM on September 30, 2013


OMG! I just realized: Blackberry is the HP calculator (with RPN!) of the 2000s.

Don't you dare badmouth HP RPN calculators. Don't you dare!

*cradles my 32SII and 48GX* There there, they don't know what they're talking about...
posted by kmz at 11:54 AM on September 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


What in hell happened the week ending August 24, 2007?

RIM did a 3 for 1 stock split and listed on the NASDAQ for the first time on Aug 21, 2007. I'm guessing people cashed in a lot of their split shares and the glut of shares depressed the value.
posted by furtive at 12:12 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I worked at a startup that was bought by RIM a few years ago. They didn't really know what to do with us for the first six months or so after acquisition, so we spent that time continuing to work on our pre-acquisition project and learning about the company. Reading their internal wiki and talking to people from other acquisitions was very enlightening.

The most striking part was the way everything we wanted to do had to be cleared by Legal. In a way, it seemed to me that while Apple was a company built around designers, RIM was built around lawyers. And while it was a large company with many capable, hardworking people, the entire system conspired to prevent them from working together effectively.
posted by heathkit at 12:18 PM on September 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've had to support iPhones, Android and Blackberries all at my job, I will shed a tear for RIM, though I stopped using one personally years ago.

Favourite Blackberry feature: The stunningly good physical quality of the product. They were tanks, plain and simple. Some things, like wifi to cell handoffs were smooth in a way Apple and Android can only dream of. Multitasking too, A/A are just now catching up on true multitasking.

Also, I still think the rollerball is a better UI feature than touchscreen. Touchscreen always suffers from the fact that your fingers are obscuring the very thing you are trying to interact with, that has always struck me as inelegant and clumsy.
posted by Cosine at 12:29 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm writing this on an ageing iPhone 3GS, but in my other hand is a work-supplied Blackberry Bold, and I'm not sure I get all the hate - for what it does (corporate email, a few internal apps), it's great, very reliable, and built like a tank.

I've always been a bit suspicious of BYOD though: as far as I can tell it means corporate IT can, if they wish, gain access to my personal phone in some ways, or remotely wipe it, or claim that it's evidence in legal proceedings or whatever. No thanks! I'd much rather carry two devices around...
posted by doop at 12:53 PM on September 30, 2013


Have you used it, or are you going by hearsay? Not a single iPhone user I know would go back to iOS6 if you paid them, me included.

Talk to my wife. She absolutely LOATHES the new look. She says it makes it look like a kid's cartoon toy. She's not a power user, so maybe there are some amazing features now that she didn't have before, but she'll never use them. It also seems to be a bit slower on her 4S.
posted by Mr. Big Business at 1:13 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Talk to my wife. She absolutely LOATHES the new look. She says it makes it look like a kid's cartoon toy. She's not a power user, so maybe there are some amazing features now that she didn't have before, but she'll never use them. It also seems to be a bit slower on her 4S.

My wife is also not a power user, and she has a plain old 4, I told her there is zero reason for her to upgrade and plenty of reason not to.
posted by Cosine at 2:26 PM on September 30, 2013


I hate almost everything about my work-supplied Bold, but my biggest complaint is the ridiculous keyboard layout.
Look at any standard keyboard. Where's the shift key for capitalizing letters? Just left of the Z, right? Now look at a Blackberry keyboard. Just left of Z is the alt key, the one that gives you numerals, semicolons, apostrophes, and question marks...not capitals. They put the shift key beneath the Z, where the alt is on every other keyboard. The result is random punctuation whenever I want a capital letter.
For that alone they can die their slow death. They won't be missed.
6uck )ou !lackberry.
posted by rocket88 at 2:57 PM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


rocket88: Long-press the letter.
posted by Cosine at 3:04 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, I feel pretty bad for all the old white men who only made a million squillion dollars out of Blackberry, instead of ten million squillion.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:14 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I know about that, but I have years of muscle memory to overcome when typing a text or email. My last phone had a slide-out keyboard with the shift in the correct place, and I got used to making the movement without even thinking.
Besides, it's just one of my many beefs with the Bold, from its non-intuitive user interface to a glitch that randomly fails to recharge the battery when I plug in the charger.
It's just a piss-poor piece of hardware.
posted by rocket88 at 3:16 PM on September 30, 2013


Hey, is that an actual known glitch? I thought I just kept not quite plugging it in properly without noticing, huh.

The keyboard thing has never bothered me because I use a Blackberry keyboard in a totally different way to a proper keyboard. Blackberry muscle memory is all diddly-diddly small thumb movements; proper keyboard muscle memory is all the fingers moving about at once, and I guess I treat them as two completely separate processes.
posted by doop at 3:29 PM on September 30, 2013


emptythought, the two things you mention (scrolling through email and the keyboard) are areas where BlackBerry actually excelled, so you just kind of sound like a spiteful "never was their customer" type to me. Seriously, scrolling on a touch screen sucked so much ass when I first started playing around with the first-gen iPhone. That experience was horrible compared to the BlackBerry if you actually wanted to do more than show off the front page of the Onion or whatever.

The issue here is that the comparison is somewhere between a modern automatic transmission with the "manual" shift mode and a true stick shift, and maybe like... a specialized kitchen appliance like a griddle Vs a toaster oven or microwave+convection combo. There are people who swear by the more specialized version of both and can even make compelling arguments to support them.

The problem is that those arguments always center around "this version inarguably performs XYZ task better". You're defending a high quality pocket knife against a leatherman.

No one was really arguing that the blackberry sucked at those tasks, it was just a somewhat archaic method of navigation that only worked truly well in extremely narrow use cases.(i won't for instance argue that using the trackball to select a word to copy or change or etc still smacks the shit out of a touchscreen, and that for scrolling vertically through content the wheel was good).

The problem was that the iphone, and everything that came after it did those things good enough. And more importantly they did a hell of a lot of things like even just basic web browsing that blackberry could never ever seem to get right. And even the first revisions of those various phones *continued* to do it better than the multiple generations and iterations of blackberries that came out in the following years.

And to directly address the keyboard, there's two schools of thought on that. I'm in the camp that always found hardware keyboards a non-optimal solution. I gave them a serious chance multiple times and just never quite "got it". Really really tiny keys that you have to consistently hit accurately with your thumbs? Typo city. Soft keyboards suck at some things, but apple brought one thing to the table that everyone else has still yet to catch up with: Autocorrect.

You can make fun of the non sequiturs it spits out from time to time, or make some weird argument about how it's making humanity dumber since people don't have to concentrate on hitting all the right letters 100% of the time... but that one change made it superior to any row of buttons on the front of a device.

I can type almost as fast on my iphone as i can on my laptop. I could in fact type faster on the older iphones because they were thicker. I can definitely see that there's two factions to this though, and i will acknowledge that i have extremely large hands(but very thin fingers) which may have made hard keyboards more annoying for me than some other people. Quite a few of my friends agree with me though.

And as for never being their customer, i wasn't a business user ever. I was, however, smack dab in the middle of all those kids in highschool in the mid 2000s who got them just to use BBM/text a shitload. And you can't deny that was a huge chunk of their market right there. I was also someone who always wanted the newest thing, but only if it did a markedly better job. I think it's nearly impossible to argue that post-iphone smartphones did a hell of a lot more and handled all the old stuff at least passably well.

And i'll also say, as a closing note, that i always thought the scrolling on the iphone was one of the best parts. You just had to get used to the "language" of it. It was pretty much "shove, let it slide, tap to stop" instead of "laser guided bunker buster" like the scroll wheels/balls of old could be. It was a lot more letting something coast and grabbing it at approximately the right point then selecting directly than turning what felt like some screw-drive knob on a microfish machine and directly selecting what you wanted.

The inaccuracy and casualness of it might have bugged some people, but it made not getting the right hit instantly when you were doing it quickly less frustrating... to me at least.
posted by emptythought at 3:44 PM on September 30, 2013


I can type almost as fast on my iphone as i can on my laptop

Whoa, what? I like the iPhone keyboard OK -- it's a lot better than Swype, that's for sure. But I can type 100 words a minute on a real keyboard (full size, full throw desktop style) and maybe half that on my crappy laptop. My speed on Swype was close to zero words a minute, since it guesses wrong on EVERY GODDAMN WORD, but I've been doing much better with the predictive Swiftkey on Android -- faster than I can type on any Apple product, including the bigger iPad screen, and much faster than my former Android physical keyboard slider phone. I'm guessing 20-30 words a minute on Swiftkey, almost that on the iPad, half that on an iPhone. But then I have stubby, fat-tipped fingers. Maybe that's it.

The only time I ever tried to type something on my boss's Blackberry, the results were hilarious. Yuck.
posted by Fnarf at 4:39 PM on September 30, 2013


A few years ago I was using my iPod Touch instead of my PC for writing and answering emails. I have no real idea why, just got in the habit of doing it where I was instead of going to the PC. And I wrote (as one might suspect) my typically long emails on my iPod Touch. I got pretty fast at it without using any word prediction (which I hate).

I certainly didn't type as fast as I do on a PC, but I typed a hell of a lot faster than you'd think someone could manage on a phone-sized touchscreen. Probably thirty words a minute, at least.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:44 PM on September 30, 2013


Incidentally, I just recently got an Android phone. It's even an outdated model and yet I'm very pleased with it. Keep in mind that my iPod Touch was 2G, and so very outdated. This Android compares pretty well, generally, to it.

But the keyboard isn't as easy to use as the Touch's was. In fact, the iPod Touch precision and responsiveness was notably better than anything else I've experienced. I also have a Kindle Fire HD 8.9, and I freaking hate the screen keyboard ... and it's tablet sized! It's extremely difficult to use, it's unreliable even though the keys are much bigger. And whoever wrote the word prediction routine should be shot. I mean, seriously, it keeps all your typos as possible words and when you backspace such that what remains predicts a different word but what you wanted was to erase something spurious and replace it with a space, it of course substitutes something else, thinking that your space was intended to accept the auto-completion. And if you backspace again to erase that... Well, let's just say that it's taken me months to realize that I can press the numerics shift key just to break out of that routine. None of this makes the keyboard any easier to use in general, though.

That phone Android is, ironically, better (even though the Kindle Fire is Amazon's flavor of Android) but it's still not as easy and reliable as the iPod Touch 2G, a 2008 or so piece of hardware.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:52 PM on September 30, 2013


backspace again to erase that... Well, let's just say that it's taken me months to realize that I can press the numerics shift key just to break out of that routine

Holy shift cakes I WISH this were true in iOS.

iOS 6. Cold, dead hands.
posted by tilde at 5:05 PM on September 30, 2013


The only time I ever tried to type something on my boss's Blackberry, the results were hilarious. Yuck.

BBQ panties?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:11 PM on September 30, 2013


Can anyone please recommend which Android phone has the most comfortable Blackberry-like typing experience? Is it the Photon or the Enact or something else? I saw a slide-out keyboard case but all of the keyboards I see are too wide.

If I can't find one with a comfortable hardware keyboard, I'm buying the Blackberry Q10 soon and run Android apps on it.
posted by TreeHugger at 5:45 PM on September 30, 2013


Whoa, what? I like the iPhone keyboard OK -- it's a lot better than Swype, that's for sure. But I can type 100 words a minute on a real keyboard (full size, full throw desktop style) and maybe half that on my crappy laptop

I can type probably close to 100wpm on a desktop keyboard, and definitely less but still pretty high on my laptop(macbook pro... not the best keyboard).

The thing is, i'd probably say my iphone is my primary computer. A lot of times i only get on a "real" computer because there's something i need to do that's either tiresome to do like lots of copy-pasting between tabs, or something i just can't do like run premiere or transcode gigantic video files. I'd say something like 70% of my MeFi posts and a lot of my other internet activity is conducted on the phone. Including, yes, some of the gigantic essay sized posts(for instance i think this) were written on it.

It's not something that i really feel has a low hard-and-fast limit of the potential speed you can hit because there's no physical buttons that need to be pressed, and the incredibly great autocorrect. I always felt that there was a hard ceiling of how fast you could type on a physical thumb keyboard... that just doesn't exist on the good soft keyboards. You don't even necessarily have to hit a letter dead on for it to somehow logic out which key you were intending to hit.

I've never actually tried to do some WPM meter site/app because i suck at all of those. Reading something and having to dictate it back goes through some weird loop in my brain that makes it incredibly slow. If i'm just thinking something and writing it i can just blast it out at pretty impressive speeds.

At the very least, i'm fast enough that i very rarely think "Ugh, i'm gonna wait until i get in front of a real keyboard to write this" even if it's a fairly long form response.
posted by emptythought at 7:28 PM on September 30, 2013


I miss real keyboards on phones.

I don't email on my phone anymore, and I barely use the web, except for stupid time-killing image browsing stuff, because it's just too difficult to type.

Those of you who use touchscreen phones as though they were computers baffle me. How do you get any work done? I don't get it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:44 PM on September 30, 2013


My speed on Swype was close to zero words a minute, since it guesses wrong on EVERY GODDAMN WORD

Interesting. I have an entirely different experience. Absolutely love Swype, and though I'm much faster on a physical keyboard, Swype is god send for me for mobile devices. I'm astounded how fast and inprecise I can be and it still gets it right most of the time.

This is not a surprise though since different people work and respond differently to the same things. It's fortunate there are options for all of us.
posted by juiceCake at 9:13 PM on September 30, 2013


Back in about 2008, the tiny company I worked for was given the job of creating the mobile version of a well known website/magazine. The kind of website that everyone has heard of and that has been linked to on Metafilter many times before. I built that site.

This isn't bragging... That site was shite.

From the beginning the magazine insisted that every single one of its readers used a blackberry. Every one of them. Even the ones without phones. So we built this site with the blackberry in mind.

The iPhone had been out for about a year and was pretty hated in my office. I had an HTC Diamond that was the target of much lust. My boss had a hideous O2 fold out PDA thing. Most of the rest of the office had things like the HTC Touch or old clamshell phones that they refused to give up on.

Having focussed mainly on UK based non-business sectors, we rushed out and bought a collection of Blackberrys and prepared to be amazed.

Instead, the BlackBerrys were almost instantly the most hated tech in our office.

The first surprise was that we couldn't tell the difference between the different phones. Some of them were grey and some of the were black, I think. And I think one of them may have had an optical trackball instead of a physical one, but they all seemed to be otherwise effectively identical.

The next shock was that they seemed to have no web browser. They had this thing called a browser, but it had no background colours, no CSS, no fonts... I don't even think they had images or tables. The reason for this was that every single feature introduced since Lynx was turned off in the settings, and each blackberry had put them in a slightly different place.

Back then, we used to pride yourself on how many devices our stuff would work on, and I regularly tested sites on phones and browsers that had such delightful quirks as insisting that every link be on a line by itself, and these Blackberrys still seemed like horrible nightmares from our past.

( The third surprise was that, while they all had identical charging sockets, none of them seemed to charge using a sibling's charger. They'd claim to, flashing their little red charging lights, but they wouldn't actually increase their battery level unless plugged into the right charger. We never worked that one out... )

When we presented the site to the client, they were heart broken. Properly heart broken. It was clear that some of the people who had commissioned the site had never used the net on their BlackBerry, and the site we presented them may as well have been sharpie'd onto toilet paper. Used toilet paper. They hated it. Until we took each one of them through turning on all the disabled HTML features. Then they merely disliked it.

When the site went live, we had to add a page called "Blackberry settings" to try and help users set the damned things up. But, since all of them had settings in slightly different places, the instructions ended up wrong for pretty much everyone. Until the day the site was replaced ( in early 2012 ) it had those instructions and people were still complaining the site didn't work on their BlackBerrys.

The stats for the site were predictably depressing too - somewhere around 90% of the repeat visitors came from iPhones, and most of the rest came from WinMob5.5 and 'feature' phones. Less than 2% (IIRC) came from BlackBerrys . The business bosses and thought leaders and decision makers they thought would use their site on a phone had all made the same decision - buy an iPhone or leave the internet until you get home.

Every time the Blackberry reappeared on our radar it was because the damned things were crap. I spent longer fighting the Playbook than I care to admit to. I'll never forget watching our QA woman sat there giggling at it. IIRC, she took it and shook it like a child setting a snow globe going, then sat and watched it for the next minute as it repeatedly drew and redrew the screen upside down and right way up...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 1:51 AM on October 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


My speed on Swype was close to zero words a minute, since it guesses wrong on EVERY GODDAMN WORD

Oh my god there are no words for how wrong you are about Swype.

I went from an iPod touch to an Android phone and my typing speed went up something like seventy billion percent and I actually occasionally write long emails on my phone now.
posted by jeather at 4:48 AM on October 1, 2013


BlackBerry could have offered something different from other smartphones, but instead, they just tried to be like everybody else. And it was a resounding failure.

This was after years and years of mocking the "big panes of glass" (from Apple and Samsung/etc). If they would have jumped ship sooner and came out with a more modern device, maybe it would have worked. It really was too little, too late.

I think the PlayBook was a big part of their demise. They put a ton of developers and staff on the PlayBook, which was also wayyy too late to market and underwhelming.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:06 AM on October 2, 2013


« Older We tend to think now of scurvy as mainly a punch l...  |  Last week, Improv Everywhere s... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments