During the 1990s, Research in Motion, launched revolutionary products that would later morph into the first generation of smartphones. The BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard was for a time the emblem of the BlackBerry brand. However, designers stuck with the keyboard as competitors such as Apple released smartphones with touch screens. Suddenly, the Blackberry keyboard was the slower of the two options for typing messages. A lack from BlackBerry to adapt with the evolving smartphone market, a focus on Enterprise (which Apple slowly ate up) made it lose its market position, and now the company struggles to keep up.
|Founding and Early Success||BlackBerry was founded in 1984 by Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. The company initially focused on wireless technologies and developed the BlackBerry wireless email system, which was a breakthrough in mobile communication. BlackBerry smartphones, with their physical keyboards and secure email capabilities, gained immense popularity among business professionals and government organizations. The devices were known for their reliability and security features.|
|Global Dominance in the 2000s||BlackBerry’s success continued into the 2000s, and it became a global leader in the smartphone market. The BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service, which allowed users to send messages and share files securely, became widely popular. BlackBerry devices were often referred to as “CrackBerrys” due to their addictive nature, especially among professionals who relied on them for email and messaging. The company’s secure infrastructure made it a trusted choice for corporate and government users.|
|Challenges and Competitive Pressure||Despite its early success, BlackBerry faced increasing competition from other smartphone manufacturers, notably Apple’s iPhone and devices running Google’s Android operating system. These competitors offered touchscreens and a wider range of apps, which attracted consumers and led to the decline of BlackBerry’s market share. BlackBerry’s delayed response to changing consumer preferences and the shift towards app-centric smartphones contributed to its challenges.|
|Operating System Transition||In an attempt to regain market share, BlackBerry transitioned from its proprietary operating system to BlackBerry 10 (BB10), a more modern platform. However, the BB10 devices struggled to gain traction, and the transition resulted in a loss of developer support for older BlackBerry OS apps. BlackBerry also explored partnerships and licensing agreements but faced difficulties in regaining its former prominence in the smartphone market.|
|Focus on Software and Services||Realizing the limitations of its hardware business, BlackBerry shifted its focus towards software and services, particularly in the areas of cybersecurity and enterprise mobility management. The company acquired several technology firms to bolster its software portfolio. BlackBerry’s security expertise and software solutions gained recognition, leading to partnerships with organizations in various industries, including automotive, where it focused on providing software for connected and autonomous vehicles.|
|Transformation and Rebranding||BlackBerry underwent a significant transformation and rebranded itself as a cybersecurity and software company. It stopped manufacturing its own smartphones and instead licensed its brand to other manufacturers. The company also divested from some non-core assets. BlackBerry’s pivot toward software, cybersecurity, and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions marked a new chapter in its evolution.|
|Legacy and Current Status||BlackBerry’s legacy lies in its early contributions to mobile communication and secure messaging. While it no longer dominates the smartphone market, it has found success in providing software solutions for secure communication, endpoint security, and connected vehicles. BlackBerry’s expertise in security and privacy continues to be valued, particularly in industries where data protection is critical. The company remains active in the tech industry, albeit in a different capacity from its heyday as a smartphone manufacturer.|
BlackBerry is a brand of smartphones and tablets designed and marketed by Canadian company BlackBerry Limited.
The company began as Research in Motion, a manufacturer of pagers and handsets which featured color displays, Wi-Fi, instant messaging, and web browsing. During the 1990s, these were revolutionary products that would later morph into the first generation of smartphones.
As a first mover, BlackBerry grew to control 50% of the smartphone market in the United States and 20% of the global market. BlackBerry phones were a status symbol and indispensable to the wealthy, and consumers became addicted to the alien feeling of always being connected.
Despite its pedigree in smartphones, BlackBerry has just 0.3% of the market today.
So what happened?
A failure to innovate
The BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard was for a time the emblem of the BlackBerry brand. Users could send instant messages or emails relatively quickly.
However, designers stuck with the keyboard as competitors such as Apple released smartphones with touch screens. Suddenly, the Blackberry keyboard was the slower of the two options for typing messages. It also had limited functionality, with touch screens able to take and share photographs, play games, send emojis, and countless other actions.
When BlackBerry did release a smartphone with a touchscreen, it was a hybrid version with the option to use a keyboard if desired. In reality, the keyboard was redundant and simply added extra weight and bulk to the design.
Proprietary instant messaging
BlackBerry Messenger – or BBM – was an instant messaging service unique to BlackBerry smartphones. The service was a hit with teen audiences with revolutionary features such as status updates, user pinging, and chat groups.
Company executives relied on BBM to maintain smartphones sales as they began to dwindle. To that end, they banned the messaging service from being installed on other devices.
By the time the company realized its mistake, services such as WhatsApp, Kik, and iMessage were prolific.
The short-sightedness of the BBM decision was also apparent in BlackBerry OS.
Smartphones from Apple and Samsung became the norm because users could download a variety of third-party apps to personalize their devices.
By contrast, BlackBerry offered relatively few apps that were difficult to use. For example, users of popular apps such as Facebook and Twitter only had half the screen with which to view content.
As consumer interest in smartphones exploded, BlackBerry remained resolute in its focus on enterprise customers.
This approach worked for a time because professionals could do meaningful work on a hand-held device with sensitive information encrypted.
However, governments soon began demanding access to the information their citizens were sharing.
It was rumored that BlackBerry caved into such demands from the Indian and Pakistani governments, which caused enterprise customers to become apprehensive about security elsewhere.
In any case, an obsessive focus on the enterprise market caused the company to neglect the much more lucrative consumer market.
Fighting for survival
BlackBerry survived the emergence of Apple and Samsung in North America because its smartphones were extremely popular in the developing world. In 2014, Africa and the Middle East accounted for 40% of the company’s total revenue.
Nevertheless, the hardware component of the business remained unprofitable and was also in a steady decline.
A new CEO was appointed in 2013 who shifted focus to designing phones and software solutions for enterprise customers on the Android operating system.
In 2015, TCL Communication became the global licensee for the BlackBerry brand.
New models were released in the following years, culminating with the BlackBerry Key2 in 2018. Since that time, no new models have been released.
- BlackBerry is an iconic smartphone brand owned by Canadian company BlackBerry Limited. The company enjoyed first-mover status in the smartphone industry, but ultimately squandered its advantage.
- BlackBerry was ignorant and in some ways disrespectful of competitors in the industry. It was more concerned with protecting its proprietary technology than innovating to stay relevant.
- Though profitable to some extent, BlackBerry’s focus on enterprise customers came at the expense of the far more lucrative consumer market. Government opposition to censoring information also eroded one of the core strengths of the company’s smartphone.
Timeline and Key Highlights
- Revolutionary Products: BlackBerry, originally known as Research in Motion, launched revolutionary products in the 1990s that paved the way for the first generation of smartphones. It gained significant market share and became a status symbol for the wealthy.
- Failure to Innovate: BlackBerry stuck with its iconic QWERTY keyboard design even as competitors like Apple introduced touch screens, which made typing messages slower on BlackBerry devices. The company failed to adapt with the evolving smartphone market.
- Proprietary Messaging Service: BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) was a popular instant messaging service unique to BlackBerry devices. However, BlackBerry’s decision to keep BBM exclusive to its devices limited its growth potential as other messaging services became more prolific.
- BlackBerry OS Limitations: BlackBerry’s operating system had limitations in terms of app availability and user experience compared to competitors like Apple and Samsung. The company’s focus on enterprise customers also led to neglecting the consumer market.
- Enterprise Focus and Security Concerns: BlackBerry remained focused on the enterprise market, offering secure communication options for professionals. However, this approach also led to concerns about government access to user data, impacting its reputation.
- Decline and Strategic Shift: BlackBerry’s hardware business declined, and the company shifted its focus to designing phones and software solutions for enterprise customers on the Android operating system. TCL Communication became the global licensee for the BlackBerry brand.
- Limited Relevance: Despite efforts to revive the brand with new models, BlackBerry’s market share remains minimal, and the brand struggles to compete with dominant players like Apple and Samsung.