OPINION

BlackBerry officially shut down its back-end services, what went wrong?

OUT OF DATE: BlackBerry officially shut down its back-end services. Picture: Shutterstock.
OUT OF DATE: BlackBerry officially shut down its back-end services. Picture: Shutterstock.

BlackBerry is dead, long live innovation.

BlackBerry, the phone that once dominated offices, airport lounges and the West Wing has officially shut down its back-end services effectively rendering any phones still out there as nothing more than an interesting paperweight.

From an idea that started in 1999, users were so addicted to their devices that many people called the phones CrackBerries.

When Barack Obama became President of the United States, rather than hand in his BlackBerry and use a security approved device, he spent several weeks negotiating with the White House cybersecurity personnel to allow him to keep a modified version of a BlackBerry.

The incredible rise of the BlackBerry was a combination of understanding what users wanted at the time and coming up with a clever solution to that requirement.

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E-mail started to become more popular in the late 1990s but users were restricted to accessing that e-mail from their computer. The BlackBerry gave you a convenient way to access e-mails and browse the web from a handheld device.

They did it by sending all data through their own dedicated servers which reduced the size of the data dramatically. That was critical as carriers charged for data by the kilobyte, but BlackBerry data was a set amount for unlimited data usage each month.

I remember being at a Microsoft conference with my BlackBerry and the managing director of Microsoft Australia told me that, as a Microsoft Gold Partner, I should be using a Microsoft device.

I explained that I could have unlimited data for $50 per month on my BlackBerry but with any other device the data charges would run into many hundreds of dollars each month. Once that problem was solved, the BlackBerry could go.

Well, not only was that problem solved but along came the iPhone and touch screen smartphones and BlackBerry was still selling a solution designed for the previous decade.

When a technology company stops innovating, it is not a case of if they will go broke, but when. Over the history of mobile phones in Australia we have seen many companies come and go and market leader changes.

Dr Martin Cooper, whilst working for Motorola, made the first mobile phone call in 1973 so it is not a big surprise that Motorola dominated the mobile market with the small number of mobile networks that existed through the 1980s. In the early 1990s, a little Finnish company jumped up to number two with NEC as the number three manufacturer.

By 1998, Nokia finally overtook Motorola with Ericsson, Panasonic and Alcatel making up the top five. Nokia proceeded to dominate the market through to 2011 with such dominance that at one stage they were selling 265 per cent more phones than the company in second place.

In 2010, Motorola had dropped like a lead balloon and chasing down Nokia were Samsung, LG and BlackBerry with Apple gaining ground quickly.

Just as Motorola had failed to see the threat from Nokia, Nokia had failed to see the threat from smartphones. 2012 witnessed Samsung at the top for the first time with Nokia, Apple, ZTE and LG rounding out the top five.

At this stage BlackBerry had over 80 million users worldwide and annual sales still over 35 million. By 2014, Nokia did not feature in the Top 10 at all and Samsung has continued to lead the way with Apple, Huawei and Xiaomi all keeping the pressure on.

It seems clear to me that any company who reaches the top and then stops innovating is in for a rude surprise.

Tell me your favourite mobile phone model at ask@techtalk.digital.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and host of the Tech Talk podcast.
This story Even leading tech companies will die if innovation dries up first appeared on The Canberra Times.