Chances are, at some point in your life you owned a BlackBerry. It was either one for your first smartphones, a device forced on you by your company, or your mum and dad gave you one because you were all about the BBM.
For those that like to chat, to share emails, to be connected with a select group of people rather than shout their thoughts out over the Twitterverse, BlackBerry is still one of "the" smartphones to have. The battery seemingly lasts forever, the messaging system is - whatever you think about other mobile operating systems - fantastically simple and as a phone, a digital Filofax, or a diary, there still isn't a smartphone on the market that can match it.
The problem is, at the moment, the wider smartphone population, isn't about communicating with a select group of people, it isn't about collaborating with a handful of work colleagues or friends, it's about surfing the web, it's about apps that let you do crazy things, it's about turning the phone in your pocket into everything but a phone.
My first experience with BlackBerry was the late Nineties in Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. A young friendly Californian VC was checking his emails. How is this possible I thought, it seems others thought that too. Within 30 minutes there was a crowd. It's the same crowd that gathered around first iPhone, or the first iPad, or the first Ultrabook, or the first anything that RIM hasn't made since.
My first BlackBerry was a BlackBerry 7200, before eventually upgrading to a Curve in 2007. It didn't have 3G, it didn't have a good web browser, but it did let me check and respond to emails on the go. In 2003 that was the bee's knees. Remember that's four years before the iPhone. Everything else at the time involved becoming a master at typing on a T9 keypad. Email on the go wasn't even an option. You either went business savvy with BlackBerry or design savvy with the Motorola Razr (the first one).
With such a lack of competition, Research In Motion cleaned up. Businesses loved the Qwerty keyboard, loved the secure email on the go element, loved that all of a sudden its workforce was working from the sofa. That blinking red light telling you that you had new mail was hard to resist.
So popular and so addictive for workaholics was the BlackBerry that, like Yuppies before them, BlackBerry users obsessed with their BlackBerry smartphones referred to them as CrackBerries.
The Curve was followed by the Bold, and then the Pearl. RIM was becoming more and more successful, and then in January 2007, the first disaster hit: Apple released the iPhone.
At the time the iPhone didn't look like that much of a threat. There were no apps, no 3G, not much of anything really, apart from a lovely looking interface and an internet browser that showed us how slow the BlackBerry browsing experience really was.
The iPhone launch was quickly followed by a bevy of other user interface focused devices, some sporting custom builds others with Android. In the US, Verizon's heavy push of the Droid brand put Android into the hands of many.
Slowly but surely BlackBerry users were tempted away, either with a second device, or the urge for better browsing, or more apps, or just more "cool".
I too switched away in 2009.
All of a sudden, every smartphone on the market could do email, and nobody seemed to care that email wasn't secure, Gmail and the plethora of smartphones made it easy to work from the sofa, the beach or the bar. RIM's unique selling point vanished.
RIM eventually replied with BB7 and the lovely Bold 9700, but by then the damage had been done. The BB App Store failed to gain momentum. The company's tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, has seen little success compared to the iPad or Android and now sales of even the core devices are starting to wane too.
In 2011 things didn't go well for the company either, with a large-scale outage for days and being linked to the London riots.
In 2012 we've had trouble at the top and several new devices to hammer the nail into the coffin. With the new Nexus 7, the Kindle Fire, the iPad 3, PlayBook sales will diminish even more. It sold just 260,000 units in the last 90 days. Apple sells that many iPads every couple of days.
What hasn't helped is the delay to a completely new operating system, BB 10, until 2013. First slated for March 2012. the new launch window (early 2013) puts it six months after the launch of the latest iPhone, after the launch of the latest batch of Windows Phone 8 smartphones, and after the launch of numerous Android devices too boot.
While you could argue that BB users aren't interested in any of those operating systems and what they offer, some will switch- the sales figures are already showing that.
The main three Operating Systems; iOS, Android, and Windows Phone all have plenty up their sleeves for the coming months to entice even more BB users away, and its last bastion, BBM has been replicated by dozens of free apps. Even some of the best features so far demoed for BB 10 aren't that unique, and the OS hasn't even launched yet. Nokia now owns the makers of BB 10s clever camera features, while Swiftkey power the on screen keyboard.
Even then, even if it beats all the odds, the latest OS is likely to be for the company's new flagship devices, and not the main core of its users. Expect the bad results to continue and continue beyond any successful BB 10 launch.
The problem RIM faces now is that bad news will be followed by more bad news. A collapsing stock price doesn't help confidence or the bank balance, nor does selling fewer phones. The last quarter has seen sales drop 43 per cent.
Research in Motion sold 7.8 million devices in the last quarter. Compared to the market HTC, Sony and Huawei all sold roughly the same number of smartphones in the same timeframe and are likely to pass RIM soon.
To put it in to even greater perspective, Samsung has sold almost 10 million Samsung Galaxy S3 smarphones in the same timeframe. That's one phone compared to the entire current BlackBerry smartphone range.
With dwindling sales, doubt creeps in and we only have to look at Kodak to see what the end result can be.
RIM says its number one priory moving forward is BlackBerry 10, but on that front you only have to look at Palm to see what can - and more than likely - will happen. Palm's WebOS launch in 2009 promised much, had some fantastic features, but failed to capture the imagination of the consumer.
RIM has to hope it has enough customers left to make BB10 work, and judging by deteriorating handsets sales that might not be possible.
I have fond memories of using a BlackBerry, as I am sure you do, but sadly like Kodak, we are about to watch one of the iconic names of the mobile industry slowly decline and fall into irrelevancy before being broken up for other manufacturers pick at its bones.
When that eventually happens, and it will, It will be a sad day, a sad day indeed.
What were your first BlackBerry memories? Let us know in the comments below
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