Not long ago, the BlackBerry was the smartphone of choice for businessmen, politicians, sheikhs and celebrities alike. And while there are still plenty of powerful people addicted to their ‘CrackBerrys,’ as the device is sometimes called, the company behind the phone and email device that once dominated the smartphone market is just barely putting along.
Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff are the authors of “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry,” which chronicles the company’s successes and failures.
McNish says, in the ’90s, BlackBerry (then known as Research in Motion) was in a race to come up with the next big mobile device.
“But no one could get email and text right,” McNish says. “Everyone was making devices that were overcomplicated.”
But when RIM founder Mike Lazaridis came up with a keyboard people could use with their opposable thumbs, BlackBerrys took off. Michael Dell, Oprah and Madonna were all early BlackBerry adopters.
Another big factor in BlackBerry’s explosive success was its BlackBerry Messenger service, or BBM as it’s known. BBM was a hit not only because it was addictive, but because it operated on a very secure platform.
“You had situations in some Middle Eastern countries where women were actually embroidering their BBM addresses inside their burkas and sort of flipping them up discretely to people they wanted to communicate with,” Silcoff says.
Even with its highly popular BBM service and streamlined devices though, RIM had trouble competing once Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.
“The BlackBerry brought us a piece of the internet, it brought us email,” McNish says. “What Steve Jobs was offering was essentially a mini-computer in the smartphone.”
But the RIM/BlackBerry story isn’t over yet.
“It’s amazing,” Silcoff says. “I think every day we meet people who tell us, you know, ‘I still love my BlackBerry, I’m addicted to it.’”
What’s more, Silcoff believes BlackBerry now has a capable turnaround CEO in John Chen.
“He’s got the company to a point where it’s not losing money,” Silcoff says. “This book is not a eulogy for BlackBerry by any means.”