Home A Requiem For RIM

A Requiem For RIM

Since Research In Motion made BlackBerry synonymous with smartphones in the early aughts, the company has taken a pounding for mis-steps, delays, intentional blindness, equivocations and most tellingly, mediocre products.

Those brickbats have often been well-deserved, but RIM should also have earned some respect, if not love, for the important role it played in smartphone development and popularization – not to mention a string of iconic-at-the-time devices that significantly advanced the state of the art.

I can still remember how excited I was back in 2006 when I got my first BlackBerry. Half the size of a paperback book, the BlackBerry 8700 had virtually no multimedia capabilities. But I could do my email anywhere I went. Just as important, that push email capability worked better than any mobile email I’ve used before or since. (I did miss my Palm Treo 650, but that’s another story…)

I was even more excited in 2008 when upgraded to a BlackBerry Curve. Now I had a real screen that could show pictures, and a way to play music on my phone, not to mention a few games and apps. Oh, and a camera. A surpassingly BAD camera, but still a camera that I used to snap – and email – photos everywhere from San Francisco to 12,000 feet up in the Chinese Himalayas. And because it ran on BlackBerry Server, it wasn’t fazed by Gmail or Facebook blockages.

Yak Meadow, via BlackBerry.

But I was already realizing that my Curve was no longer on the leading edge. My friends all had iPhones, and while they couldn’t do their email as fast or as securely as I could, they could do a lot more things that seemed more and more important.

That mattered to me, but it didn’t seem to matter to RIM. So in 2010, when I finally got the option to choose my own smartphone, I didn’t even consider getting an upgraded BlackBerry – only whether I needed an iPhone or an Android. I’ve never looked back.

And yet…

Now that RIM is on the ropes, it’s all too easy to recall the things that I will miss about the BlackBerry:

A physical keyboard. Sure, I’ve gotten used to the virtual keyboards on modern touchscreen phones. And it turns out that I don’t do all that much typing on them anyway. But when you needed to write on that phone, nothing beat the sure feel and positive feedback of a well-designed physical keyboard. (Of course, RIM played down that advantage as it introduced models with only standard phone keyboards or touchscreens.)

Secret confession: I miss the little wheely thing on the side of early BlackBerries that let you quickly and accurately scroll among the various menu options. The little ball in the center of the Curve was never as easy to use, and touchscreens are a whole ‘nother ballgame.

Blackberry Messenger. Sure it worked only with other Blackberry users, but it was an awesome implementation of instant messaging. Way better than any third party solution on the Blackberry or other phones I’ve used.

A screen you could actually use in broad daylight. That screen may have been blocky and low-res, but at least you could see what was on it.

An email-first mentality. I’m old school. I still rely on email. And while I get email on my other devices, I still appreciate how RIM put email front and center on the Blackberry.

Battery life measured in geologic time. I never ran out of power during a long day on my BlackBerry. Never. I could even skip a day – or two – of charging and still stay in touch. Try that on your iPhone and you’re carrying around a pretty little glass brick.

The ability to concentrate on my work without the distraction of all those apps, websites, games, and whatnot. Except, of course, for…

Brickbreaker. I spent hours sliding that little paddle around the screen, and got some decent scores. Problem is, being good at Brickbreaker is like being good at pinball – a sure sign you have too much time on your hands.

But that’s just me. Enterprise communication managers will have many more reasons to mourn BlackBerry’s passing. Corporate uses were key to RIM’s DNA – and that’s something no one ever says about Apple or Google. RIM always took enterprise security seriously, Apple and Google had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even think about the issue. If RIM is no longer a viable competitor, how long will it take Android and iOS to resume ignoring security and manageability?

So even if RIM stops making Crackberries, I’m truly hoping that BlackBerry Enterprise Server doesn’t go away. In fact, I’d like to see RIM put all its emphasis on making BES the back end for all kinds of corporate mobile communications, supporting all kinds of mobile devices.

That would be a much smaller – though perhaps more profitable – company, and management still defiantly claims no interest in going down that road. But while few folks will miss BlackBerry devices, many businesses would miss BES. Focusing on the corporate market is the company’s last, best hope to remain relevant. Because that little wheely thing ain’t coming back.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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