Companies: BlackBerry exits the phone market
“It’s the end of an era,” said Brett Molina and Jon Swartz in USA Today. BlackBerry, the Canadian technology company that helped usher in the mobile age with its eponymous smartphone, has stopped manufacturing its own devices, pivoting instead to focus on business software. It’s the end of a long downward slide for BlackBerry’s hardware business, which at its peak in 2009 claimed more than 50 percent of the U.S. smartphone market. Today, BlackBerry’s market share sits at less than 1 percent, its steep decline almost perfectly mirroring the rise of iPhone and Android devices. “Like tech pioneers before it, BlackBerry was left behind.”
It wasn’t long ago that the BlackBerry was the “ultimate business gadget,” said Nic Fildes in the Financial Times. The first BlackBerry, which debuted in 1999, wasn’t a smartphone, but a handheld device that let users send messages and emails on the go. It took its name from the tiny keys on its built-in QWERTY keyboard, which felt like “the pockmarks on the skin of berry fruit,” at least according to marketing consultants. The BlackBerry “caught fire,” and soon more features were added, including a thumb-wheel for scrolling and the ability to make calls. By the 2000s, legions of “Crackberry” addicts wondered how they’d ever gotten along without it; devoted fans included the likes of President Barack Obama and Kim Kardashian West.
“BlackBerry’s woes were in many ways a product of its rapid and improbable success,” said Jacquie McNish in The Wall Street Journal. As the company, formerly known as Research In Motion, struggled to keep up with booming demand for the BlackBerry, especially from the business community, it didn’t notice that it was in danger of being surpassed by its bigger Silicon Valley competitors. When the iPhone debuted in 2007, BlackBerry executives initially dismissed it as “nonsensical,” not believing that cellular networks could deliver the videos, photos, and other internet content Apple was promising. That same year, Google made its Android operating system free to handset makers, clearing the way for the likes of Samsung “to siphon away BlackBerry customers with lower-cost phones.”
BlackBerry’s popularity definitely made it complacent, said Vlad Savov in TheVerge.com. While Google and Apple were transforming the mobile industry, BlackBerry contented itself with making minor tweaks, wrongly believing that “people would wait for its superior product or would put up with limitations, because, well, it’s BlackBerry.” Apple is guilty of the same kind of hubris now, but it sells close to double the number of phones that BlackBerry did at its zenith. Still, Blackberry’s sorry predicament proves that even businesses at the top of the market can be rapidly overtaken by “sprightlier newcomers.”