Today marks a bittersweet day for many of us who have formed deep personal relationships with our gadgets -- the announcement by Blackberry, Inc. that it is once again exploring "strategic alternatives" -- which is usually a euphemism for selling off all or part of the company.
True, Blackberry may go private, and could potentially emerge from the ashes in a new form, but many industry watchers (including me) see this as a clear sign that the end is near for our familiar Blackberry devices.
Nothing lasts forever in the technology business, and Blackberry is no exception. But the Blackberry deserves more homage than just being thrown on the dustbin of faded technologies.
It changed us, and changed the way we work.
The Blackberry was the first device that taught us that a cell phone could do much more than just make phone calls. I used the messaging capabilities so much that I was often startled when the phone actually rang.
For the first time, I could be away from my unportable laptop for days at a time -- and still keep up with the flow of work. With the right data plan, you could travel the globe, and always be in-the-loop.
Amazing stuff in the day.
As a result, the Blackberry was almost entirely responsible for re-engineering an entirely new balance point between work and life -- and not always positive. We all got quickly accustomed to reading and responding to work emails at all hours of the day, and night, and weekends, and holidays, and ...
Our corporate employers quickly realized the massive productivity that resulted from having a workforce that was constantly connected. Corporate-issued Blackberrys were as common as corporate-issued laptops in many circles.
The devices were good too: they felt good in the hand, they had great battery life, they were easy to type on, and you could drop one and not expect it to break. And they tended to last through several upgrade cycles.
My son still uses a hand-me-down Blackberry. It is battered and scarred from many years of rough treatment, but he loves it because it does exactly what he needs it to do -- phone calls and messages. He is not interested in owning an iPhone or an Android.
I guess there just aren't enough people like him around these days.
So What Happened?
In a nutshell -- the model changed.
We all realized just how powerful it could be to hold essentially a fully-featured computer in our hands. We became enamored with browsing the mobile web, using powerful applications (and, yes, games!) that transformed how we thought about mobile devices. It was an exciting new world.
And, yes, we made the occasional phone call ...
It's surprising what we were willing to give up in exchange: we were willing to accept a significantly more expensive device, more expensive data plans, a more fragile device, vastly reduced battery life, increased complexity, and more. The new smartphone model was so compelling that we, as consumers, accepted those tradeoffs willingly.
Even though I've been a longtime iOS user, I still miss the simple elegance of my Blackberry -- a device with a clear purpose.
While I'm sure much will be written about where RIM (now Blackberry Inc.) went wrong here or there, I don't think that's the point. When the model changes, there's no going back. Either embrace the new model, or suffer the consequences.
And that's a good lesson for every tech vendor.
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