Research In Motion was once king of the hi-tech mobile world. In a time not so long ago as you might think, cell phones that could surf the web and send email were novel, almost miraculous devices. Sometimes called personal digital assistants (PDAs). Sometimes palmtop computers. Sometime they were simply known as BlackBerrys. The RIM made BlackBerry was the Kleenex of the smartphone world before the world invented the term smartphone. The modern era of pocket computers has not been kind to this venerable brand. The Blackberry persisted with its classic keyboard-n-trackball style well after the new era of touchscreen slabs had finger painted the future on the wall. Confident it its reputation as a rock-solid platform for serious enterprise users and certain that all this iPhone hooey the kids were always yammering on about would blow over, RIM kept on making traditional BlackBerrys for their traditional users. It worked. For a time. Then one day, the bottom dropped out. By the time Research In Motion sprang back into motion, the BlackBerry was teetering on the brink of irrelevance.
2012 saw the father of smartphones loose one million users even in spite of dabbling with touchscreen versions of their devices. It was a first for the company. This warning shot spurred the sleeping Canadian bear into action. 2013 would be different! The corporation was restructured. Production lines were retooled. The vaunted BlackBerry operating system was reimagined. January of 2013 would see a whole new RIM and a whole new BlackBerry.
The BlackBerry Z10 was warmly received by critics, averaging four star reviews. A sleek, black slab of a touch device reminiscent of the iPhone 5. A handsome, if not radical, device. The BlackBerry 10 OS was a bit more inventive. With an emphasis on widgets and live data, BB 10 eschewed both physical buttons and on-screen navigation and instead relied on swipe gestures for moving about the OS. It was a novel and intuitive method of input once you got your head around it. Some declared the new virtual keyboard, a sticking point with the older attempts at touchscreen BBs, as one of the best keyboards yet created . Most importantly, the OS was snappy and responsive. The app store debuted at a plump 70,000 apps, although many of these were emulated Android programs that ran… well, about how you’d expect an emulated app to run on a phone. RIM had even manage to cobble together a media store similar to iTunes or Google Play that offered music and video at the tap of a button. It was a solid first outing.
It flopped. ABC News named it one of the biggest tech flops of 2013, positioned squarely between Facebook Home and Surface RT. Why? It was a solid first outing in a world of mature devices. Users and critics alike had become comfortable in the two horse race that the smartphone market had become. Even early adopters were kept satiated by the annual iterations of their favorite devices. The Z10 review on The Verge speaks volumes about the mentality of smartphone owners in 2013: “The Z10 is a fine device, well made, reasonably priced, backed by a company with a long track record. But it's not the only device of its kind, and it's swimming against a massive wave of entrenched players with really, really good products. Products they figured out how to make years ago. Products that are mature. The smartphone industry doesn't need saving.” It was also a BlackBerry. It was your grandfather’s smartphone brand. Hip, happening movers and shakers don’t go shopping for an Oldsmobile.
So… What next? A break with tradition? Was the BlackBerry name poison in today’s marketplace? Perhaps a new product line was in order. Something new yet familiar. The RIM Vim! The Android OS you love with the legendary RIM security you need (particularly after the lid was a blown off of a coalition of the free nations of the world collecting every single one and zero you blow through the Intertubes)! Designed for business, built for you. Finally, an Android phone with secure messaging, outstanding call quality, and solid construction. It was perfect timing as the Samsung Galaxy S4 had just released to lukewarm reviews. So, how did the Vim do? It didn’t. I just made that up. The truth is much more in line with what you’d expect from a giant recently awoken to find the race half over.
In an act of utter lunacy, Research In Motion Limited changed its company name to BlackBerry, forever linking them to the sinking ship that was their flagship product line. A larger, slightly improved version of the Z10 was released as the BlackBerry Z30. Critics heralded it as, “The best BlackBerry yet,” “The company's slickest, most advanced smartphone,” and, “This phone could have saved BlackBerry from the abyss.” Critics would go on to add “But it's too little too late,” “But the competition is simply just too great now,” and “If it had been released a year ago.” Like the Z10, the Z30 failed to gain any traction in retail.
The end of 2013 sees
RIM BlackBerry with a new CEO, $2.6 billion in unsold inventory, and a 56% drop in revenue leading to a staggering $4.4 billion loss in the fourth quarter alone. BlackBerry has canceled two consumer handsets planned for release in 2014 and states it will focus on high-end enterprise devices. CEO John Chen stated that the company is hoping to return to the consumer market in North America and Europe sometime in the future, but for now the company is focusing on stabilizing its finances.
Tune in tomorrow for our choice for 2013’s biggest tech turkey. You know them intimately and they just. Don’t. Get it.