The Life and Times of BlackBerry: Checking into Rehab
Here’s a quote for you: ‘the palmtop gadgets, nicknamed crackberries due to users becoming quickly hooked on them, could be seriously damaging to mental health’. Eeek! While we may have taken it from everyone’s favourite scare-mongers, The Daily Mail, the quote itself comes from a study carried out in a US university on the dangers of BlackBerry phone addiction.
Here’s another: ‘these discreet handheld gadgets are being blamed for chronic insomnia, relationship break-up, premature burnout and even car crashes’. This comes from the slightly more serious Independent, who go on to print quotes from some ‘well-known’ individuals who say things like ‘I wake up in the night and check my BlackBerry for emails’ and ‘I thought I lost my BlackBerry and was about to start hyperventilating, but it was hiding at the bottom of my huge bag’.
It gets worse. The same article describes something called BlackBerry Thumb, a painful condition caused by excessive use of the keyboard and trackball, and ads such as this one which are just plain embarrassing. We could go on and on in this vein, chronicling the tidal wave of stories about BlackBerry addiction, recovering addicts and telltale signs of becoming one which filled even the mainstream press between 2005 and 2008.
While we can look back and smile at the things being said back then, one can’t help but marvel at the incredible job everyone was doing promoting the BlackBerry phone – this wasn’t just going on in a tech-world bubble; it was a mainstream cultural phenomenon!
Did it help RIM’s business? Estimates place sales of BlackBerry phones in 2005 at 1.3 million, a figure which had changed to 6 million by 2008 and nearly 15 million last year; so it’s safe to say the whole addiction thing helped quite a lot.
This lengthy introduction to our article on Research in Motion perfectly illustrates just how the world’s attitude to smartphones and their usage has changed. What was called addiction in 2006 is seen as normal in 2011, and supposedly shocking statistics such as ‘one in six check email in bed using a portable device’ is probably on the low side for today.
The difference is that now, the addicted masses probably use an iPhone or an Android phone to check their messages, shunning the staid old BlackBerry. Why? Well, the BlackBerry has never truly been able to shake its suited-and-booted owners, looking more at home in the hands of executives than in the hands of the beautiful people.
While the smartphone in general has been embraced by people from all walks of life, the BlackBerry still circles around the outside, desperate to fit in with the cool kids but never quite succeeding. BlackBerry’s a victim of their own brilliance actually, as their secure email system, BlackBerry Messenger and near-perfect QWERTY keyboards are still unrivalled in the industry. But none of those things are sexy, and sexy sells.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, and RIM’s fall from grace isn’t in the same league as Motorola’s, thanks to plenty of support from the younger generation who love BlackBerry Messenger, a strong celebrity fanbase (check out celebrityblackberrysightings.com for proof) and an ability to build strong, well-engineered hardware.
But there’s no denying their falling global market share figure, which indicate RIM is dropping at a similar rate to Nokia, mainly as a result of ‘limited presence in the high-growth touchscreen segment’ according to industry analysts Strategy Analytics.
The world hasn’t gone to mobile phone rehab, as the desire is clearly still there, so what has RIM got to do to make us all crave a BlackBerry once more?
BlackBerry Hardware: Hall of Fame!
You may recall when we looked at Motorola and HTC, it was the more aesthetically pleasing models which made our top three, but while RIM make tough hardware, they don’t always make pretty hardware; so be prepared for some functionality to creep in here! We’ll start off with just such a phone, but its importance can’t be overstated.
The 8700 was the first BlackBerry to offer EDGE connectivity, and the first with a true full colour display – it had a 360 x 240 pixel resolution and could handle 65,000 colours on its 2.4-inch screen. The design may have been a little angular for modern tastes, but this was the phone that started users on the path to addiction. Its influence on the BlackBerry range is clear, as the Curve would copy its spec for quite some time.
BlackBerry Pearl 8110
Released when BlackBerry fever was coming to an end, the Pearl was RIM’s first attempt at a consumer-level BlackBerry. It shunned the full QWERTY keyboard and went for an unusual consolidated keyboard instead, using a clever piece of software called SureType to decipher what the user was typing. It worked really well too, but the Pearl was still too business-like for the burgeoning smartphone market, especially compared with a devices such as the Nokia N95.
Ohhh, controversial! The PlayBook may not have scored highly with tech pundits so far, but it’s early days for the company’s first tablet. Once the application store starts to fill up and the software gets an update or two, the PlayBook could be a reason for users to chose a BlackBerry smartphone when it’s time to upgrade; and pulling new customers in is exactly what RIM needs to do. The PlayBook is very important to RIM, and one to watch.
BlackBerry Hardware: The Low Points
Oh dear, when a BlackBerry phone misses, it does tend to do so quite spectacularly! Here are three RIM creations we don’t think meet up to their usually high standards.
BlackBerry Storm 9500
Must. Release. Touchscreen. Phone. That was RIM’s mantra at the end of 2008, and the Storm 9500 was the result of their hard work. Setting aside the ridiculous lack of Wi-Fi, the Storm was hampered by slow, bug-ridden software at the start of its life, and users struggled to get to grips with the SurePress screen technology. The attractive styling was a bonus, but otherwise the Storm smacked of bandwagon-jumping.
BlackBerry Pearl Flip
Hey! Remember flip phones? They were so cool in 2005! So why, then, did RIM release a flip version of the Pearl in late 2008? Styling isn’t everything certainly, but as the Pearl Flip had exactly the same features as the candybar Pearl at the time – 2G, 2 megapixel camera, SureType keyboard – the only reason to choose the Flip was because of its aged form factor!
Although it has got so much better over the years, with BlackBerry 6 being perfectly usable and BlackBerry 7 appearing to be another step forward, for a long time it was the one area which let the side down.While many berate Symbian for being slow, old-fashioned and filled with text menus, BlackBerry OS was exactly the same, and RIM’s methods for applying a bit of spit-and-polish to tart it up were the same too. Thankfully, those days are almost over.
RIM: The Future
Earlier we asked what RIM has to do in order to make us crave a BlackBerry again. Everybody has their own ideas on what makes a phone desirable, but for us, it’s a stonking spec sheet with some innovative design or user experience tweaks.
It looks like RIM is heading in the right direction too, as the Bold range is getting quite a makeover with the 9900, a QWERTY/touchscreen combo with a 1.2GHz processor onboard, BlackBerry 7 OS and a 5 megapixel camera with HD video. We can’t wait to try out this hybrid smartphone!
Also, like every other big name manufacturer, RIM has a tablet computer. The PlayBook is getting ready for its UK release on the 16 June, and excitement is growing for the 7-inch tablet, which is powered by a dual-core 1GHz processor and runs a QNX-developed, PlayBook-specific operating system. The PlayBook works best when combined with a BlackBerry smartphone, as it can share a data connection and email services.
As we said above, to become desirable they need desirable products and right now, the idea of a PlayBook and a Bold 9900 is very attractive indeed! Could it be this pairing which sees the return of BlackBerry addiction? Maybe!