A requiem for BlackBerry

Honoring BlackBerry's contributions to mobile and IT.

This has been a big week the mobile industry, what with the release of Apple’s new iPhones and iOS 7. I’m a – relatively – happy iPhone user, but that’s not what I want to write about today. Instead, I think it’s important to take a moment to pay our respects to BlackBerry, which this week coupled the announcements of a giant new phone nobody cares about and making its still-popular BBM instant messaging service available for Android and iPhone with revelations that it’s about to lay off 40% of its remaining workforce even as it struggles to find a buyer.

It’s yet another step toward what appears to be the inevitable demise of a once-great company. And while I no longer use any BlackBerry products (which makes me part of the problem, I guess), I’m going to shed a tear when the company that made smartphones safe for the enterprise finally gives up the ghost. And I hope you will, too.

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BlackBerry’s doom has been in the works for some time, of course, but now it seems there may not be anyone left to turn out the lights. And whatever you think of BlackBerry these days, and however much the company’s wounds were self-inflicted, you can’t deny the importance of the CrackBerry to turning smartphones from expensive toys into essential business tools.

A Short History Of BlackBerry

Think back to the mid-aughts, when, you could find BlackBerries in the hands of just about every mobile executive on the planet. When I got my first BlackBerry – a clunky 8700 – in 2006, I soon realized that it finally made mobile business productivity a reality. And when I upgraded to a BlackBerry Curve (with a – crappy -- music player! and a – terrible -- camera!), I no longer missed my Treo 650 quite as much.

Sure, when I was able to choose my own smartphone in 2010, I went with an iPhone. But once in a while, when I’m traveling somewhere that blocks Google or Facebook, or when I need to bang out an extra-long email, I still think about that cute little Curve, and feel a little sad that its legacy will most likely turn out to be… nothing.

5 Things That Made BlackBerry Great

So let me take a moment to remember five great things about the BlackBerry, and raise a glass to its glorious past and the people who made it happen (before they ruined it, of course):

1. Best. Mobile. Email. Ever: BlackBerry’s push email system was better than any mobile alternative I’ve ever used – and that’s still true today.

2. Physical keyboard: I’ve gotten better at the virtual keyboards on iOS and Android over the years, but it’s never been like those great BlackBerry keyboards for writing a magnum opus on a smartphone. Yes, they took up a lot of space that could have been used for a display, but they created a lot fewer typos. (I even liked the little wheely thing used to navigate around many early BlackBerries. Not a touchscreen, sure, but remarkably fast and efficient.)

3. Extended battery life: With my BlackBerry phones, I never worried about running out of juice after a long day. With my iPhone, I worry about running out of power almost all the time. Some of that is because I use the iPhone for so much more, but still…

4. Security to die for: While I don’t worry much about security on my iPhone, enterprise IT departments do. And all indications are that Android is even more vulnerable. Industry-leading security is one of the last reasons that BlackBerry is still around at all.

5. Brickbreaker: For me, sliding that little paddle around was more fun than flinging any number of angry birds at stupid pigs. That one simple game got me – and millions of other business travelers - through more flight delays than any airport bar.

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