The Rise and Fall of BlackBerry: An Oral History
December 6, 2013 8:40 AM   Subscribe

In 1984, Mike Lazaridis, an engineering student at the University of Waterloo, and Douglas Fregin, an engineering student at the University of Windsor, founded an electronics and computer science consulting company called Research In Motion, or RIM. For years the company tinkered in obscurity, until it focused on a breakthrough technology: an easy, secure, and effective device that allowed workers to send and receive e-mails while away from the office. They called it the BlackBerry.
posted by Chrysostom (62 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
...and they lived happily ever after.
posted by fairmettle at 8:46 AM on December 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Blackberry: tinkered in obscurity
posted by Big_B at 8:49 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ironically enough, their biggest problem was refusing to stay in motion when they finally got serious competition.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:56 AM on December 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


If only they'd hired The Bieber
posted by glaucon at 8:57 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I bought a Playbook just so I could mess around with BB10.. and then they reneged on porting it to the PB. Was able to sell it for what I'd paid for it (which wasn't much).
posted by mrbill at 9:05 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Up until that point, Mike had said, “That’s crazy, why would I ever want a camera?

People would be, like, “You’re in BlackBerry retention? Why would anyone need that?”

The field reps and carriers were asking, “Why don’t you guys advertise?” I do remember asking the question, and it came down to, “We don’t need to.”


This wasn't a fall, so much as a controlled flight into terrain.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:16 AM on December 6, 2013 [33 favorites]


Justin Bieber's Canadian? I figured he was from Jersey.
posted by phaedon at 9:20 AM on December 6, 2013


And no one heard from phaedon again.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:21 AM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ironically enough, their biggest problem was refusing to stay in motion when they finally got serious competition.


Actually, it's not that simple.

RIM had a lot of the technology before other manufacturers did, even Apple. The problem is, due to the sudden and very abrupt entrance into the market as a major electronics manufacturer, they didn't have the benefit of long-standing relationships with their suppliers. Whereas Apple (as a hypothetical example) can go to a chip or display manufacturer and say "We would like you to develop this never before imagined product to work with this recently created technology," and the manufacturer will have no problem getting their board to go along with it because, at some point, there will be a return. RIM didn't have that benefit, nor the war chest.

Disregard the Playbook for a moment, and look at the Storm 9530 when it came out. It was rushed into the market to compete with the iPhone that had just been introduced. Everyone knew what was going on, and it was well apparent that there were great improvements that were still needed to make it a viable product. But if you were to look at RIM's development program, they had been getting this together since about the time Apple was looking at BlackBerry's share and revisiting the Newton. Problem was, Apple could get any manufacturer onboard, but RIM had to have certain guarantees in place that greatly delayed future releases, and pay prices that limited how particular things could be designed.

Best example of this: The micro USB versus Apple's 30pin. One of the technologies RIM sold in 2010 to keep things afloat was a rapid charging technology they had been trying for a long time to implement into their products, but got nowhere because manufacturers weren't willing to make the investment. But, from day 1, Apple could whip out a totally novel charging port, and manufacturers and consumers alike didn't give it a moment's hesitation.

This had a compound effect on their development. Because manufacturers weren't willing to give RIM an extra arm's length, they knew full well this would lead to their demise, as well; further limiting their investment in the company. Even if RIM had miraculously introduced a completed 9530 with all of the bugs worked out a year prior to iPhone, they still would have had to replicate this a number of times before they could command the global market.

The ultimate nail in the coffin was not the Playbook, but rather the major BES/BIS outages of 2010. A lot of Enterprise level customers were hanging onto the BlackBerrys because of the perceived advantages of security, and it was possible they could have remained a big player in the major business market (despite the growing BYOD elements developing at the time). But when ENTIRE CONTINENTS were without BlackBerry service through no fault of the individual administrators, a lot of IT leadership felt this was the writing on the wall, and moved to expand their ActiveSync and smartphone enviornments. Security be damned. Ultimately, businesses have to have the email working, no matter what.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:24 AM on December 6, 2013 [31 favorites]


I would like to point out that this story features someone named "Bruce Poon Tip."
posted by Chrysostom at 9:24 AM on December 6, 2013 [15 favorites]


I once believed they would stand a better chance of prying a gun out of Heston's still living hands than they would getting me to part with my BlackBerry. Man those were different days. I used to feel this same way about the Palm. Only difference is I can't think of one thing the BB did that I miss, while with the Palm I still want my graffiti back. I can't wait to see what replaces my iPhone. Probably heroine.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:27 AM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would like to point out that this story features someone named "Bruce Poon Tip."

His brother Just The recently contributed to a thoughtful article on workplace conduct during the holiday season.
posted by glaucon at 9:29 AM on December 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, research is for people who don’t want to actually work anymore.

This is evidently from people who worked at a company called Research in Motion. Eponysterical.
posted by graymouser at 9:30 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Justin Bieber's Canadian? I figured he was from Jersey.

This is shockingly offensive and you should apologize to New Jersey RIGHT NOW.
posted by elizardbits at 9:35 AM on December 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


Reading postmortems for an entire company is fascinating because generally you never have a consensus on what actually caused the fall of the company. I suspect that we cannot predict business success for the same reasons.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:42 AM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Actually, it's not that simple.

So, on one hand, you're right - but I'd also argue that there was a hell of a lot that RIM could have done entirely in software that they simply didn't, even without those hardware advantages that Apple had.

Moreover, sometimes moving forward means doing things like saying 'hey, we don't have the hardware connections we really need to have to compete - maybe we should partner up with a major hardware company while that's still an appealing thing to a potential partner.' Yes, it would have meant a lot of pride-swallowing and possibly lower margins, but if you have hardware problems, why not try to strike a deal with, say, Samsung or Nokia?
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:45 AM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is shockingly offensive and you should apologize to New Jersey RIGHT NOW.

I don't care what you're responding to, that sentence is never OK.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:49 AM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


What's with the meteoric rise of the "oral history" over the past five years? Is it a desire to emulate documentary film? Have journalists just forgotten how to write?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:50 AM on December 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


The problem, Tomorrowful, is that every day has multiple potential threats that argue for various strategies of "step down off the top rung of the ladder to make a risky crossing to another ladder that goes much further up." It's not that Apple just used its existing hardware connections--Tim Cook spent five years building the supply chain that produced the iPhone, meaning lining up vendors and creating capacity filling deals that excluded competitors, amongst other things. The reason Cook replaced Jobs was his masterful job of doing this, which on the day of the iPhone's release caused everyone else to say "that's not physically possible."

It's not a question of looking back and saying "there's where we did the wrong thing", it's looking back and saying "there's where we should have known we were making the wrong choice." I've seen no analyses of RIM that point to the latter.
posted by fatbird at 9:53 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the mid to late 1990's I was helping to organize the large "Team Canada" trade missions lead by Chretien. One of my jobs was to act as a case officer for companies who had registered to participate in the mission. Answer their questions, help get them ready for the trip etc..

One year, I think if was for the 1997 trip to China, I had a company called RIM as one of my clients. I remember fielding a call from the company, either Jim Ballsillie or Mike Lazaridis, asking for clarification on somethign. After answering their questions we ended up chatting for a little bit. I asked them what RIM did and what they were hoping to gain from joining the trade mission. They told me about the product, how it would revolutionize things etc.. I remember thinking that it was a cool idea but I couldn't grasp how it would be any more than a gadget for business people.

How wrong I was about that.
posted by smcniven at 9:54 AM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, it would have meant a lot of pride-swallowing and possibly lower margins, but if you have hardware problems, why not try to strike a deal with, say, Samsung or Nokia?


Um, because they're competitors?

I don't think you understand who the manufacturers I'm referring to are. I'm talking about the slightly smaller conglomerates that make the cases, the glass, the boards, processors, the batteries, etc. You woudn't recognize the names of many of those companies, but their stuff is in almost any mobile device out there.

EDIT: Also, I'm referring to the third parties that make the accessories that go with these things. You may not realize this, but when Apple releases a new product, Belkin, Logitech, Bose, and a lot of other companies are already hip to what's going to be in it so the products are available to consumers the day they pick up the new iPhone 9, or whatever. There's relationships here that are very important in maintaining a company's image and influence in electronics market ecosystem. It's not just what ends up in the box with your logo on it, its your logo being on other people's boxes, too.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:56 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Steely-eyed Missile Man: "What's with the meteoric rise of the "oral history" over the past five years? Is it a desire to emulate documentary film? Have journalists just forgotten how to write?"

Man, I hope someone compiles an oral history detailing that.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:57 AM on December 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's interesting that each element in the "oral history" here seems to be trying to find some "Aha!" moment in the shortsightedness of the company, whether it's the disparaging of research, the questioning of retention (which they had, to their credit), the failure to hire Bieber, whatever. That way the blame slides off employees like water from a duck, while the heads look myopic. Which is how it probably felt, subjectively.

There's probably a lot going on, including the reality that RIM was never at the scale of Apple or Google or Microsoft. None of these even touches on what the financials were and how all that money was spent at the peak of Blackberry's market cap (other than talking about specific product failures). It fits a neat "failure of vision" narrative, but that's almost certainly not the whole story.
posted by graymouser at 10:05 AM on December 6, 2013


Man, I hope someone compiles an oral history detailing that.

How about an infographic on oral history, only on Buzzfeed and you have to click to advance to each meaningless polar plot with no axes or scale?
posted by Behemoth at 10:10 AM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Several years ago (5 or 6?) I was super excited that the company I worked for was going to give us Blackberrys. I had a clamshell of some kind at the time that gave me only a brief glimpse of what new phones could do - rudimentary "browser", crappy camera, TEXT MESSAGING OMG!. I had heard about BBs and what they could supposedly do - "A computer in your pocket!". I think the iphone was not out yet but we knew what it was going to be and people were excited!

And then I got my BB. All it could do was get my email. Every other function of the thing was totally locked down per corporate IT policy. Camera turned off. GPS disabled. No text messaging. Browser/Internet disabled.

It was worthless. If I needed to take a picture of something in the field and send it I had to use my personal phone.

I'm no IT guy but I am a techie, and this has always seemed to me like one of the main reasons these failed. They seemed to market exclusively to the corporate world, and when the corporations pushed them out all the neat stuff that a consumer would want was disabled. Seemed like lots of other people I knew who had BBs were in a similar situation. When you don't know what a device can do why would you ever buy one? My dad just over thanksgiving had me look something up on my android because he couldn't do it with his brand new BB. And he's an executive sales manager with a huge IT company. Craziness.
posted by Big_B at 10:10 AM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm no IT guy but I am a techie, and this has always seemed to me like one of the main reasons these failed. They seemed to market exclusively to the corporate world, and when the corporations pushed them out all the neat stuff that a consumer would want was disabled.

Exactly. IT guys generally still love them (although they are also likely to have a different device for personal use) because they are easy to administrate once you lock everything down except for the most basic features. And, for what it's worth, if you have a mobile device that you need to be as absolutely dead-on reliable as possible in delivering push email, it does make some sense to strip it of everything else that might interfere with the delivery of email.
posted by slkinsey at 10:26 AM on December 6, 2013


Old Canadian suits are going bloo bloo bloo because keyboard. I suspect that a large proportion of the Toronto resource extraction crowd are undead, so capacitive touchscreens are useless to them.
posted by scruss at 10:44 AM on December 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


> Every other function of the thing was totally locked down per corporate IT policy

The other thing it was easy to do on Blackberry was lock down features by carrier. You had a Bell number? GPS access will be $10/month extra, thank you.
posted by scruss at 10:47 AM on December 6, 2013


IT guys generally still love them... because they are easy to administrate

All I ever got was "turn it off and on again". However I will go along with IT loved them, because of all the control they had over them.It seemed their idea of fun was crippling them to the point of uselessness. It wasn't until the CEO's started bringing their iPhones in that the IT people even knew they existed. The floodgates opened, despite IT's best efforts to ignore the iPhone, going so far as to develop BYOD policies that basically said "Do whatever the F you want, we'll only support email (sometimes)."
posted by Gungho at 10:51 AM on December 6, 2013


...and they lived happily ever after.

Pretty much, yeah. Lazaridis and Balsillie still clock in at about $300 Million each.
But I guess if they had done things differently they could have been rich.
posted by rocket88 at 10:58 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


They called it the BlackBerry.

Actually, Lexicon Branding did that for them.
posted by Kabanos at 11:03 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


All I ever got was "turn it off and on again".

Nobody ever told you to do a battery pull? That's half the fun.*




* not fun
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:06 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


All I ever got was "turn it off and on again". However I will go along with IT loved them, because of all the control they had over them.It seemed their idea of fun was crippling them to the point of uselessness. It wasn't until the CEO's started bringing their iPhones in that the IT people even knew they existed. The floodgates opened, despite IT's best efforts to ignore the iPhone, going so far as to develop BYOD policies that basically said "Do whatever the F you want, we'll only support email (sometimes)."


Ok, this is where I need to step in. I'm the IT guy you're referring to.

First... It wasn't "turn it off and on again," you were instructed to pull the battery. This was the only way to refresh certain BlackBerry OS functions, plus it gave us time to send you the Service Books, which would sometimes take 5-10 minutes, all while the customer would be complaining about it.

Secondly, with BES administration, it wasn't a matter of crippling it, it was making the system work with existing email systems that were not being properly utilized by customers, nor upgraded by admins. (In fact, the company I worked for had both Exchange and Lotus Notes enviornments IN THE SAME DOMAIN. AAAH!) We had to turn off a lot of features to get the darn things to work without everything going to hell. Example: For some reason, admins insisted upon trying to update meeting attendees without sending an email to all existing attendees, even though Microsoft Exchange architechs instructed people to do so. As a result, we had to make sure users weren't managing their calendars from their BlackBerrys, not because that, in and of itself, would break something, but because often the original meetings weren't set up in the first place.

Lastly, our resistance to the iPhoen and other BYOD systems was from a security and feasibility standpoint. It wasn't so much people were using iPHones, it was the fact they wanted to use their iPhones just like their spouses would. It was the consumerisation of IT. People didn't just want us to put email on their iPhones, they also wanted to use all of these apps to manage documents and use Dropbox, so they could do their work on their phone, without any consideration for the millions of dollars in existing architecture not designed to support it. It was akin to a guest showing up at your house for dinner, and ten minutes before you eat saying that they are vegans who don't eat gluten, and want a Mexican dish in 5 minutes, and you just pulled a roast out of the oven.

The hardest part of being in IT, these days, is that the customers want to use toys, after we've spent the last decade building tools. Then, they turn around and want to know why certain things are buggy or have security holes, even though they were warned that if they brought their toys into the environment, they would have to suffer these bugs and security concerns unless they let us dictate how the toys would be used... which they refused.

Back in 2002, I worked for a company that set up and maintained servers. The guy who owned the company would take me on calls, and he always started the meetings with customers the same way:

"If we're going to build you a server, we can make it easy to use, secure, or inexpensive. Pick one. You can't have two, or three."

These days, everyone wants all three. And, they not only want it easy, they want it customized to exactly as they want it. I miss BlackBerrys, to be honest. And I credit Apple with making IT service the mess it is, these days.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 11:10 AM on December 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Corel
Nortel
Research in Motion

Great Canadian tech juggernauts that all petered out in a spectacular manner. le sigh
posted by furtive at 11:13 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even if RIM had miraculously introduced a completed 9530 with all of the bugs worked out

Yeah even if the released product had been complete and relatively stable. All they had was the lion's share of the market, deep hooks in Enterprise IT, a clamorous fan base, the cash, and the developers.

when Apple releases a new product, Belkin, Logitech, Bose, and a lot of other companies are already hip to what's going to be in it

Like audio out and bluetooth? I'm on board with the notion that Apple played a world-beating hardware game, but that side of it is only one part of what limited RIM, much less what killed them. There were always simple solutions to their problems.

From the article: Vincent Washington, senior business development manager, 2001-11: "Everyone started to see we were onto something big. If you’re in a movie—it’s that scene when they cut to everybody going to Vegas."

Vegas? From senior business development, this is telling. "We were hittin it big, I tell ya. A big fat spread of all kinds of sandwiches, everything soaked in champagne, oh and the girls girls girls!"

Lysyk: "There was so much management. You’d have your team lead, then your manager, director, then senior director, then another director. At one point they said it was [only] 5 to 10 percent engineering. That’s pretty hard for a tech organization."

Fatal, really.
posted by petebest at 11:27 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like audio out and bluetooth?

Form factor. You can't make a dock or a case or whatever if you don't have the exact dimensions of the device, the connector, the placement of the external speakers, etc. That stuff doesn't go from zero to store shelves in the time between preview and retail release.

(I agree that it's not a world-shattering deal, though)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:38 AM on December 6, 2013


I think that part of RIM's problems is that the BlackBerry got so tightly identified with the stereotype of an obnoxious and clueless corporate manager. Who would want to be seen as that type of person?
posted by octothorpe at 12:08 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember there being a really great comment in a thread awhile back about how BlackBerry/RIM pretty much could not win at the end of the day, as every possible option (among like four or five) was pretty much a dead end. Does anyone remember that comment, and where it is? I think it was within the last year or so.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:09 PM on December 6, 2013


Here.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:14 PM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


The first time I ever used a smartphone as a GPS driving aid was visiting Canada and just got the new Blackberry 8900 (really shiny gear back then). Of course I didn't have a mount for the rental car so I drove with one hand while the other hand held the phone up so it could get a signal with its weak GPS receiver. That's gotta be some kind of metaphor for RIM or something.
posted by planetesimal at 12:26 PM on December 6, 2013


I love the arguments to explain why RIM did bad business and failed. Guess what. They went along and tried to integrate and work with every single legacy system and company and tried to make their device be controllable and it got them nowhere in the end. People wanted to use their own phone to do email and calendar? *gasp* it's not like those services are built on easy and commonly implemented standards! That's crazy. It's better to have hand-spun proprietary garbage holding together the system. Much better.

It's too bad that they were nice and friendly and Canadian and did everything right, but once day they realized they backed themselves into a corner and their company was dead.

Also the story of the IT department losing control over users and their devices sounds like a pretty positive story to me. When was IT not a mess? are you serious? Windows+Blackberry environments are the greatest messes ever. You just felt like a grand-wizard that had control over it and were the only one who understood it. Now it's reversed.
posted by Napierzaza at 12:50 PM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]



I can't even remember all the Blackberries I've had. I had an original 900 or 950, a 957 (full size but no phone), a 6200 with a phone *built in*, at least two of the blue 7200s - I think I missed the models with a trackball, but then had at least 3 Bolds. I abused them.

Never bought one with my own money, though. Who does that?

Now, at conferences or on the train, the Blackberry user is so uncommon he (always *he*) attracts attention like a rare bird.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:11 PM on December 6, 2013


I suspect that a large proportion of the Toronto resource extraction crowd are undead, so capacitive touchscreens are useless to them.

True fact. Canada may be all cuddly on the surface with our casually bigoted enfant terrible pop-star cultural ambassador and adorable gangster mayors, but that hides a rotten core that will turn you to fucking stone if you stare directly at it.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:28 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


graymouser: " That way the blame slides off employees like water from a duck, while the heads look myopic. Which is how it probably felt, subjectively.

There's probably a lot going on, including the reality that RIM was never at the scale of Apple or Google or Microsoft. None of these even touches on what the financials were and how all that money was spent at the peak of Blackberry's market cap (other than talking about specific product failures). It fits a neat "failure of vision" narrative, but that's almost certainly not the whole story.
"

I've been in companies that tanked, but I've never heard of one that failed because "the employees didn't work hard enough". Success comes from everything going right, from HR hiring policies to market timing good luck. Failure, IME, generally comes from above.

I knew a General Manager of a division - essentially President of a subcompany - who directed every engineering employee to work 50 hrs/week (no overtime pay for salaried people), because the company was losing so much money. He took a look at our sales history, deduced that every single gantry product we sold lost money (a BIG-ticket product line), and forbade any salesmen from selling a gantry under any circumstances. AFTER the company tanked, a senior company officer revealed to me: the GM's bonuses were tied to gross sales, not net income, so he himself was the one putting gantry sales on our docket, claiming them to be old orders to the general workforce.

One solitary, metafiltering bastard sank the company. Or, if you prefer: one compensation package tanked the company.

"Lack of vision" is shorthand for incredibly stupid management decisions, all too often made by ego and self-concern instead of sound business data.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:43 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that part of RIM's problems is that the BlackBerry got so tightly identified with the stereotype of an obnoxious and clueless corporate manager.

Pretty much this. When I was in corporate, I knew I was in trouble if someone waddled up to me wearing two Blackberries. THEN I knew I was in trouble. Those guys all thought they were Batman. Or Superman. Or Don Juan. Or all three.
posted by nevercalm at 1:47 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bathtub Bobsled: "It was the consumerisation of IT. People didn't just want us to put email on their iPhones, they also wanted to use all of these apps to manage documents and use Dropbox, so they could do their work on their phone, without any consideration for the millions of dollars in existing architecture not designed to support it. It was akin to a guest showing up at your house for dinner, and ten minutes before you eat saying that they are vegans who don't eat gluten, and want a Mexican dish in 5 minutes, and you just pulled a roast out of the oven. "

Wrong. It's like someone showing up for dinner, realizing your food sucks, and deciding to go out for Chinese instead. Or Wendy's salads, because they're vegetarians and you're serving chili.

Immensely insulting to the hostess (that would be you), but my running Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Dropbox, and using my camera to capture whiteboard sketches doesn't cost IT a damn minute of time.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:07 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was going to write something long, but made this picture instead. In short, things iterate and as a result a perfectly good product for its time gets left behind, and if your company is that product, then the company is likely left on the wayside as well.
posted by furtive at 2:13 PM on December 6, 2013


Blackberry was a solution designed for the enterprise that got beaten out from every possible angle except backwards-compatibility by a new player that wasn't even targeting enterprise. iPhone was a consumer cell phone that still did business stuff better than RIM's baby. If a "toy" makes a more useful "tool" than the actual tool does, and adds a whole bunch of fun stuff to boot, why wouldn't people want to ditch Black & Decker for Fisher-Price?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:30 PM on December 6, 2013


The toyification of enterprise tools?
posted by furtive at 2:35 PM on December 6, 2013


Here.

Yep, that's it! Thanks. I imagine one of the worst places to be in a business is when the industry moves so significantly away from your business model that there isn't much of a winning move, except to reinvent your business into something entirely different and hope that it works.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:11 PM on December 6, 2013


I bought a Playbook just so I could mess around with BB10.. and then they reneged on porting it to the PB.

This wasn't the only thing they reneged on at that point. I was a building a blackberry app as part of a startup at that point, and I had to think long and hard about whether or not to build it in Java - supporting all their old devices in the process - or whether or not I wanted to develop for the Playbook and BBOS 10 with Adobe Air. What made my mind up - Java - was that I needed access to their existing customer base, and they promised - promised, mind you - that Java would make it over to the new QNX-based operating system, along with Android support.

The stories I've heard internally from RIM around this time are an epic saga managerial incompetence, structural paralysis and monkeyshit-flinging. If you watch the introduction of the Playbook closely, you'll see that nobody ever actually interacts with the device on stage; at that point - despite claiming that "amateur hour is over" - they didn't have much more than a glowing rectangle to show for their efforts.

But if you look really closely, you'll be able to see that the browser on display is - somehow - a modified (and never-released) version of Firefox. And not only did that catch people at Mozilla by surprise - "They did what?" - you know who was even more surprised? All of RIM's browser developers. Imagine how that feels, to see your company's new flagship product, which you've never heard of, paraded around on stage running a browser you've never seen before, when it says "browser" right there in your department's name.

That was true, I hear, of just about every piece of functionality the Playbook ostensibly featured.

But I, like a lot of developers, bet on that promise of support; their BlackberryOS 7 came out a bit later, clearly a stopgap measure to shore up their rapidly eroding marketshare, and BB10 slipped, and slipped, and slipped, and the Playbook was dead in the water.

But they won't kill their developer ecosystem, right? Right?

And then they woke up one day and said, hey guys, surprise. We're _keeping_ support for Android java and dropping support Blackberry Java. So if you're working on an Android app, it'll be super-easy migrating over to the new BB10! And if you're a Blackberry developer, one the long-suffering true believers who have always wanted to help make RIM successful, welp. You'll need to rewrite your app from scratch.

And that was the end of that. Within four months of that announcement everyone who had a choice in the matter had abandoned that sinking ship for either Android or, if they were canny or foresighted enough, iOS. At the supply-chain level it was probably worse - you might not have noticed, but Amazon's first Kindle Fire devices weren't much more than rebadged Playbook hardware, almost certainly because as the first few hundred thousand Playbooks rotted in warehouses somewhere Bezos went to the Chinese companies manufacturing them and asked them if they'd prefer to work with a company that can actually sell things?

Oh, you would? Great, let's work something out.

This part is conjecture, but I suspect very strongly that the direct consequence of that was that RIM suddenly couldn't even secure enough production capacity to build enough physical devices to dig itself out out its hole. Even assuming it had a product worth buying, and that wouldn't come along for another two years.

To all reports, the new Blackberries are pretty nice. It's got a crisp, responsive OS with a lot of polish and some pretty good ideas in it - it built on and polished up one of WebOS's best ideas, for example, with the unified messaging system - but it's utterly irrelevant, because nobody develops for them and nobody wants to work with them, because nobody thinks they're a reliable partner anymore.
posted by mhoye at 4:37 PM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


my running Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Dropbox, and using my camera to capture whiteboard sketches doesn't cost IT a damn minute of time.

Typically, though, when it breaks you'd call IT.

There is a fundamental disconnect between Systems Administrators - whose job is the support and maintenance of a complex business-logic system over the long term - and Users, who expect to be able to use their devices as they see fit. Neither party is in the wrong; they're just fundamentally incompatible goals, and a lot of that has to do with cost, either financial or opportunity.

Users' problems are typically in front of them right now; sysadmins, if they're doing their jobs right, don't have big problems right now, but have to mitigate problems they're anticipating months or years from now. They share almost no common language.
posted by mhoye at 5:37 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Every time I read about Blackberry I feel like I'm reading a preview of stories that are going to be written about Nintendo in 5 - 10 years: same history - innovator that once dominated a market crowded out by bigger, better funded competitors; same debate about the causes of the downfall - inevitable technological and market forces versus specific decisions and structural factors.
posted by eagles123 at 6:13 PM on December 6, 2013


You don’t meet many Canadians that are ambitious in that kind of way.

Canada doesn't end with Anne of Green Gables.

My company is moving away from BB in the New Year, and it isn't a moment too soon. My current Bold crashes several times a day, overheats and cuts wireless, drains the battery at random rates and the worst sin: email and BBM delivery cuts in and out. I loved my previous BB, but this is close to the worst phone I've ever had.
posted by arcticseal at 7:59 PM on December 6, 2013


Immensely insulting to the hostess (that would be you), but my running Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Dropbox, and using my camera to capture whiteboard sketches doesn't cost IT a damn minute of time.

That may be true. But your Dropbox sharing of your corporate assets might be placing the companies crown jewels incidentally and accidentally on a shared drive. That is what IT loved about RIM - they could lock that shit down so some random 'fun' app wasn't responsible for corporate data leaking like a sieve. But CEO's wanted to play angrybird/candycrush, so non-IT controlled devices invaded, and eventually the CFO realized they could save money by using employee assets (that were insecure as heck).

RIM made a ton of mistakes. One of them was assuming that large multinationals, insurance companies, banks, military-industrial-complex companies, oil companies - all of these groups would always demand a secure solution to hold their mobile data. They assumed the security part of the puzzle wouldn't be easily replicated by other companies (it hasn't), and they would maintain market share among all those key constituencies because those groups valued corporate security above Candy Crush compatibility.

posted by el io at 11:03 PM on December 6, 2013


I think that part of RIM's problems is that the BlackBerry got so tightly identified with the stereotype of an obnoxious and clueless corporate manager. Who would want to be seen as that type of person?

This is as much the secret to Apple's success as the cause of RIM's failure. Steve Jobs and company made sure their products were tightly identified with the type of person we all wanted to be seen as.
posted by rocket88 at 5:48 PM on December 7, 2013


arcticseal: "Canada doesn't end with Anne of Green Gables. "

Duh, look at a map. Canada STARTS with Anne of Green Gables.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:17 PM on December 7, 2013


I begrudgingly gave up my Blackberry last week. Not because a competitor was better, but because they were more expensive for less functionality. I am frustrated and sad about this. My Samsung S4 is an incredible piece of technology and it plays games flawlessly. It is more powerful than any computer in my house and has a better-spec'ed screen than any TV in my house.

But I need reliable push email. RIM did that incredibly well. With this, I have to trust stupid google. Their stuff is great, but it is free and has zero guarantees of anything. It works fine, but who knows what will happen tomorrow? Blackberry excelled at this. Reliable push email is what they did.

Android is fine. It is a triumph of open source. But everything is one or two steps more complicated than it needs to be. Their marketplace doesn't care about simple, fast and useful. It cares about apps and bling. They want breadth, and there aren't enough of us who want depth to be able to change that. It's the same problem Firefox has.

It reminds me of my uncle trying to buy a work truck. He wants bulletproof reliability and a vinyl interior can be hosed down once a season. He doesn't need bluetooth or GPS or an automatic transmission. AND he doesn't want his world complicated with things he doesn't need. Unnecessary things get in the way. RIM knew that, and made it possible to easily eliminate extraneous stuff.

#bummed
posted by gjc at 5:29 AM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


mhoye: my running Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Dropbox, and using my camera to capture whiteboard sketches doesn't cost IT a damn minute of time.

Typically, though, when it breaks you'd call IT.

You couldn't be wronger. I never call IT for support on anything on my personal computers except work-related software. Period. And I wouldn't give a damn if you hung up on anyone complaining that their copy of Candy Crush or Dropbox crashed. Period. It's obviously not your problem.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:38 PM on December 8, 2013


They share almost no common language.

Eh, I do systems support. I am also an iOS user. I agree with half of your statement. Users have no idea (nor should they care) about systems stuff, but every systems guy I know also uses devices.

I used to managed the fleet phones for a newspaper and we had 200+ phones? Only people over 30 came to me with problems. To anyone under 30 a smart phone is a phone. To the people who did show up because their Candy Cush wouldn't launch…it's like 3 seconds of my time to show them how to relaunch an app or reboot their phone or reinstall.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:01 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This thread made me sort of laugh to myself when, during Monday's change-request-review conference call, someone had the line item of "Turning off the Blackberry server." Their update was "Nobody's used it in ages, it just sits there, so no user impact."
posted by mrbill at 12:09 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I still have like 3 BB users (maybe). When they ask me what's better than a BB I answer, "Anything." Soon I will have zero BB users, and I really do not care what they move to. I can support Candy Crush on any device that runs it.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:55 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


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