Look at the Picture above. 2 things should strike you about it. The first and most obvious is that this phone is running Android. The second, a little bit foreshortened at the top of the screen, is the Blackberry Logo. Yes this is Blackberry phone apparently running Google’s Android OS and apparently running a Google certified version (Google Apps and the Play Store can only appear on phones that have passed Google’s Compatibility Test Suite, which means the big G must have been involved it the creation of this phone at some point.
Now the wiser ones among you will have studied the above picture and spotted that it is a render, rather than a true photo, and know anyone with Photoshop skills could have knocked this up in about 5 minutes. But the picture came from Evan Blass aka @evleeks, who has a history of accurate information about unreleased devices so we should at least consider taking it seriously.
If this is in fact their first Android phone it will mark the admission by Blackberry (formerly Research In Motion) that hardly anybody wants their phones anymore and their only route to survival is to adopt the worlds most popular phone and tablet OS and hope that their products build quality will differentiate it from the herd of other Android OEM’s out there. But it wasn’t always so, there was a time when a Blackberry was a status symbol and Research in Motion (RIM) ruled the smartphone world.
In the beginning…
The first Blackberry was released in 1999 and was actually just a pager (if you don’t know what a pager is, go ask a grown up), so named because it’s keys resembled the bumps of a blackberry. It was massively innovative for it’s time as it could receive e-mail from the already standard Microsoft Exchange Server via RIM’s own Blackberry Enterprise Server. In 2000 RIM released their first smartphone, the BlackBerry 957. For the next seven years Blackberry ruled the smartphone roost, It’s only competition were the stream of constantly name changing Windows Mobile OS’s from Microsoft and the “not quite a smartphone” Symbian OS used by Nokia and others. But this was all about to change.
The One-Two Punch
In 2007, the smartphone age as we know it today began with the release of the original iPhone. Overnight the old, small screened, keyboard and trackball design of the Blackberry looked massively outdated. This was followed in 2008 with the launch of the G1, the first Android phone. Early development builds of Android had looked similar to the Blackberry, but now it followed the iPhone into the touchscreen era. Blackberry responded with a touchscreen phone of it’s own, The Blackberry Storm, but this suffered mixed reviews and poor user satisfaction so Blackberry went back to what they did best, releasing newer versions of the same small screen and Keyboard format and expanding out of their business niche to capture a large chunk of the youth market due to their cheap plans and the use of Blackberry Messenger for text messages. While iOS and Android kept expanding, they didn’t overtake RIM’s worldwide market share till 2010 when first Android, then iOS crossed over Blackberry’s line in the chart and headed for the stratosphere. Blackberry never recovered.
The Phony Crisis
The next part of the story is slightly contentious. While Blackberrys were no longer the cool kids on the block they still had massive popularity in business, largely due to Blackberry Enterprise Server and other features that made them more suited, at least initially, to the work environment. But a number of bad decisions, such as the release of a clearly unfinished tablet in 2011 and delays to the release of it’s overhauled phone OS, caused analysts and the markets to worry about RIM’s long term profitability. while they still had millions of users, the smartphone revolution meant that even company directors were wanting to have one of the new devices and “bring your own device” policies also cut into those massive corporate earnings and companies no longer bought updated models. RIM, despite having lots of users and plenty of cash in the bank had started to smell of death.
In late 2011, RIM laid off 2,000 workers, the first of many attempts to restructure for the new reality. Shortly after it was hit by a massive service outage that affected millions of customers for several days, severely denting it’s image of corporate reliability just as Apple were launching the iPhone 4S. The launch of a completely new OS version also ran into problems when it’s chosen name (BBX) was involved in a trademark dispute. The new OS, rechristened Blackberry 10 didn’t actually launch till January 2013, by which time RIM’s CEO’s Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie had resigned and been replaced by Thorsten Heins and the company had posted it’s first net loss ever. More job losses followed along with RIM actually changing the name of the whole company to Blackberry, but it was all too late. A buyout, another change of CEO and several more rounds of layoffs and restructures couldn’t turn the companies fortunes around and despite still having 46 million active subscribers to it’s services, the company is still running in the red.
So, is the Venice Blackberry’s last desperate throw of the dice? An attempt to stay relevant in a world that no longer wants what it’s selling? If this does mark Blackberry’s submission to Android there will be those who point out the aptness of the name. A once great power now just one of many competitors. Hopefully Blackberry’s Venice will still be able to pull in the punters and won’t slowly sink from sight like it’s namesake.