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BlackBerry in the making

In this two part review, CRAIG JOHNSTON starts off with a brief history of RIM, outlining the company’s first BlackBerry devices, their shortcomings and the late adoption of them in South Africa. He then goes on to mention how the brand ousted other manufacturers from the smartphone market, and of course its ultimate battle with the Apple iPhone. Look out for the second part of the review on Gadget where he reviews BlackBerry’s latest Torch and how it competes against the iPhone 4.

Part 1: How did BlackBerry get here from there?

One of the first BlackBerry devices to come from RIM

Cellular data usage was almost non-existent until late 1999, early 2000, when Research In Motion released their first BlackBerry devices. Back then you couldn’t get them outside the US and Canada because they operated on old data-only networks, and not cellular networks.

They didn’t have phones and could only synchronise email. But that was all it needed to do, because it did it securely and worked with corporate e-mail systems like Microsoft Exchange. The corporate world fell in love with the BlackBerry and the rest is history.

Eventually, in late 2001, the first GSM BlackBerrys with phones were released and they started to become known in the rest of the world.

In South Africa, though, the carriers didn’t warm to BlackBerrys. Nobody saw the point and so, while they grew exponentially in popularity elsewhere, in South Africa people still thought that SMS was a great way to communicate.

Finally, in 2005, the BlackBerry started showing up on local carriers. It took a few more years for them to become really popular, or as popular as they had been for years elsewhere. So as you read this, bear in mind that most North American BlackBerry users have been using them for about ten years now. That same interface, the small improvements over the years, the lackluster graphics, and the navigation by scroll wheel, then trackball, then trackpad.

BlackBerrys killed Windows Mobile and Palm OS phones, which had forced people to use a stylus on a screen that responded to pressure. But then, in 2007, the mobile phone world got a wake up call. It came from a company that has always led and innovated: Apple.

The iPhone burst onto the scene and millions of people switched from their BlackBerry, Palm OS, Nokia Symbian, and Windows Mobile phones. Why? Because the mobile marketplace was boring, staid in its ways and no longer innovating. The iPhone offered a capacitive touch screen, a fast processor, amazing graphics, and an all-round mind-blowing experience never before seen in the mobile space.

People asked RIM if they were going to address the iPhone. RIM told them that Apple wasn’t a threat and that they were not going to make an “iPhone killer””. This I think, is that defining moment in history where a decision is made that changes the direction of that company. While RIM sat back to continue down the path of building the BlackBerry as we had always known it, Google created Android, Palm created webOS, and everyone started copying the iPhone. Everyone went to full capacitive touch screens, fast processors, applications, and beautiful graphics. Everyone saw that copying the iPhone or trying to better it was winning people’s hearts. RIM still sat back, but then one day they decided they were going to make a revolutionary Smartphone. They built the BlackBerry Storm. It suffered from day one for a number of reasons. First, RIM decided that they wanted people to click the screen when making choices or selecting something. While everyone else had an operating system that worked with full touch screens, RIM’s BlackBerry OS couldn’t handle touch, so they compromised. What they should have done was overhaul the OS to support full touch, but they didn’t.

Later, RIM made another attempt with the Storm 2. Still requiring this clicking of the screen. At this stage RIM had lost a lot of ground against its competition. The field had now grown to include Apple, Google, and Palm.

Now here we are in 2010, a full three years after Apple introduced the iPhone, and RIM has released the BlackBerry Torch. Let’s take a look‚Ķ

Part 2 on Gadget Monday 20 September

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