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You were never more than six feet away from a BlackBerry in London. Everyone was connected to these devices, from company executives sending emails in the back of taxis to schoolchildren who couldn’t go five minutes without checking BBM. The lightning-fast speed of exchanging messages, combined with a full, pocket-sized keyboard, ushered in a new era of being permanently online, where everyone communicated around the clock. If you don’t have a Blackberry you’re just being backward, stupid, a philistine.
Since the turn of the century, annual sales of BlackBerry phones have seen almost exponential growth, and with it grew the desire to have the latest devices around the world. This craze transformed BlackBerry’s Canadian headquarters in Waterloo from home to a large Mennonite community that traveled by horse and refused to use electricity, into a tech powerhouse that was the center of gravity of the global smartphone industry. .
“It was the closest to being a rockstar I ever felt,” said Craig Swan, a software developer who worked for BlackBerry maker RIM for twelve years.
“It was incredibly gratifying to see my work in front of everyone all the time. I used to get stopped on the street so people could check out my new phone, or people at airports would be excited to hear that you worked for RIM, and everyone knew RIM.
BlackBerry’s grip on the smartphone market was such that when Steve Jobs appeared on a stage in San Francisco in 2007 to unveil the first iPhone, many company insiders simply shrugged their shoulders.
“I think there was a lot of disbelief that people would want an inferior product,” Swann told the Standard.
“The original iPhones had terrible batteries, constantly dropped calls and were slow. The Blackberry was a better phone.
But while Apple lagged behind RIM in its technology, it had a secret weapon: the App Store. The move provided users with thousands of new tools that were never before available on smartphones. In effect, this meant that Apple was outsourcing its iPhone innovation to hundreds of software businesses around the world – developing new applications at a pace that RIM struggled to emulate.
Former BlackBerry employee
By 2009, a year after the launch of the App Store, keyboard-based BlackBerrys and touchscreen iPhones were at the level of global smartphone shipments, but in 2010, Apple moved ahead and BlackBerry suffered a setback, sales began to decline. ,
“There was no writing on the wall until the App Store was shut down,” Fraser Gibbs, BlackBerry’s former technology director, told the Standard.
“Of course people were worried. Slow sales coupled with budget cuts and hiring freezes led to a change in mood.
“But many people were also surprised. We were all addicted to keyboards and didn’t understand the appeal. The teams I worked with had a strong determination to keep going and keep fighting.”
And fight back, it happened. BlackBerry unveiled its own touchscreen phone, the Storm, in 2011 and began eliminating the keyboard entirely in 2013. But it felt like a tacit acceptance that the iPhone’s design itself was the future. In any case, the Storm was a poor imitation, leading to hundreds of thousands of devices being recalled due to faulty touch screens, while BlackBerry’s co-CEOs both resigned by 2012, and thousands of employees were laid off.
“I don’t know anyone who predicted the loss of market share,” Gibbs said.
“We created a business communication device and BB really lost the market due to the shift to music/game/apps devices.
“It was not an issue of technological innovation, but rather a realization of what the consumer market wanted from a smartphone.”
Fast forward to 2022, and BlackBerry finally discontinued its support for its classic smartphones, ending a 25-year history in the industry. Its dramatic rise and fall is captured in a new film, ‘Blackberry,’ which hits theaters Friday.
The film powerfully captures the thrill of being inside a lightning-fast tech company, as well as the intense pressure on engineers to keep innovating at a rapid pace – although its story is not faithful to the facts.
“It made me a little angry because a lot of things were misrepresented,” says Gibbs.
Most of the technical discussions in the movie were nonsense. There were no major restrictions on engineering or fun.”
“The thing that got it right is the energy to get the product to work and get it out the door,” says Swann.
“The desire to have a perfectly engineered product that always works.”
The spirit of BlackBerry engineering lives on in Waterloo, which remains a leading technology hub in Canada. Ironically, the company’s demise led to a huge surge in tech startups in the city: the size of its severance payments was such, laid-off engineers had enough cash to start their own ventures, some of which themselves Became a unicorn. It is also home to large engineering bases for Google, Oracle, McAfee and others. But the enthusiasm of Bibi’s days cannot be compared to anything.