How BlackBerry went from defining smartphones to losing the market

How BlackBerry went from defining smartphones to losing the market
Photo Credit: Pixabay
5 Jan, 2022

The termination of services of Blackberry devices running on legacy BB7.1 and BB10 on 4 January 2022 marks the end of an era in the mobile industry.  

“As of this date, devices running these legacy services and software through either carrier or Wi-Fi connections will no longer reliably function, including for data, phone calls, SMS and 9-1-1 functionality,” the company said in a statement

For many years Blackberry devices were revered for their security and productivity features by top business executives and government officials. However, the intense competition in smartphone business has pushed the brand to the fringes in the last few years.  

We take a look at the rise and fall of BlackBerry smartphones.  

Rise of BlackBerry 

The first BlackBerry phone was launched in 1999, but the brand rose to prominence several years later when it started offering email service on its mobile devices. The addition of an instant messenger service called the BBM was the icing on the cake. The trademark QWERTY keyboard used in BlackBerry phones also enabled users to make the most of these services and type quick messages and emails on their phones.  

In 2012, the company released the BB10 operating system that was designed to take advantage of the touchscreen interface. BB10 based smartphone BlackBerry Z10 offered intuitive touch controls that put it on par with its Android counterparts. It also offered innovative productivity centric features such as BlackBerry Hub that clubbed all notifications, calls, and messages in a single window.  

However, as more brands entered the Android ecosystem offering a wide range of choices, the market share of BlackBerry OS started to shrink. Access to secure Instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp also took the sheen away from BBM.  

According to the ComScore report, in Q1 2011, Android OS overtook BlackBerry OS for the first time to become the most used mobile operating system in the US. BlackBerry OS’ dropped from 31.6% in Q4 2010 to 27.1% in Q1 2011. It was one of the factors which led BlackBerry to switch to touchscreen smartphones.  

Fall of BlackBerry  

As more brands entered the smartphone business with more aggressive pricing strategies and customisable user interface (UI), it became harder for Blackberry to keep up with its legacy BB OS. Though BB10 had its limitations, it was the paucity of quality apps and games on the BB app store which led to the brand’s downfall.  

In 2014, BlackBerry reported a net loss of over $ 5.8 billion. As BlackBerry’s market share eroded further, the company decided to dump BB10 altogether and made a last attempt to save the smartphone business by launching Android-based smartphones with core Blackberry apps such as Blackberry Hub and DTEK built into it.  

The initial Android phones were launched directly by BlackBerry, however, a year later in 2016, the company decided to exit the smartphone business and license the brand name to third party OEMs and manufacturers such as TCL and Optiemus.  

On the BB 10 front, in 2015, BlackBerry launched its last BB10 based device called Leap, and in 2017 announced that it will support the devices until 2019. The BlackBerry app store was shuttered on 31 December 2019.  

BlackBerry has clarified the termination of BlackBerry services will not impact its Android operating system and devices.  

Though initial Android products such as Blackberry Priv generated a lot of traction, the subsequent launches failed to make much impact in the Android smartphone market.  

The attempt to offer the trademark Blackberry keyboard alongside touch screens through sliders has also not worked for the brand.  

Many of the core Blackberry users who had moved to Apple iPhones for its security-centric features and top-notch performance haven’t found the Android-based BlackBerry devices compelling enough to go back.  

The agreement between BlackBerry and TCL ended in August 2020. According to news reports, BlackBerry had inked a new deal with US-based company Onward Mobility to launch an Android smartphone with 5G support sometime in 2021. The smartphone has not been launched yet.