The King is Dead! Long Live the King!


This Week the Blackberry Died – A Lesson for Everyone

Remember the Blackberry?

By the time you read this, any Blackberry phones out in the world using the Blackberry operating system will have died a quiet and ignoble death. Effective January 5, Blackberry pulled the plug. They still have a few units out there using Android systems, but essentially, they are out of the smart phone business.

In the very earliest stages of enhanced electronic communications – what eventually became smart phones – the Blackberry was the top of the line by far. It essentially created the smart phone industry. It became so popular and addictive for users it was often referred to as Crackberry.

When President Obama took office, the Secret Service told him he would have to give up his Blackberry, as it would be a security risk. He informed them that was not going to happen. As a result, the wizards in the intelligence community went to work, remaking his phone into something James Bond would have recognized. The President continued to use his Blackberry.

King of the Hill in the Early Days

 I remember that early period well, the late 1990’s. I had just retired from the Army and had joined a small, young company. This was a great company, but not exactly cutting edge with technology. Company computers were cheap PCs with no speakers. All electronic communication was via email sent to each other via AOL. Yeah, AOL. Our business email address was an AOL address.

I was not an IT guy, but a heavy user early on and we did not have an IT person. I went to the company president and convinced him we needed to upgrade our electronic presence with better equipment, a web site, a domain name, etc. He agreed and off we went into the late 20th century.  One of my early acquisitions was a few Palm Pilots. Remember them? Basically, electronic calendars with some other features. Cutting edge stuff then, but really limited.

Shortly afterwards, the Blackberry hit the market and I was smitten. I had a lot of company. Their sales took off. Blackberries became ubiquitous, an expected accessory of leaders in business and government and celebrities.  Even in its earliest iteration, it was sleek, sophisticated, with a great keyboard and a growing list of capabilities. We bought some for the company and we lived on them all the time. Everyone did. Blackberry seemed secure in their leading position. At one point they were selling 50 million phones a year.

Then, The iPhone Arrived, Followed by Androids

 Around 2007, Apple came along with the iPhone. Androids came later. Initially, many saw the Apple phone as a glorified iPod. Heck, they did not even have a keyboard. Who would want anything like that? Turns out, millions of people did, and still do. By the time of the iPhone 4, Apple had taken the lead. Apple, by the way, briefly crossed the threshold this week to being a $3 trillion-dollar company. iPhones were the foundation for that status.

Steve Jobs was brilliant at figuring out not what people wanted, but what they needed, then selling that vision to them. It’s an important distinction. Henry Ford once followed the same model. He said that if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said they wanted faster horses that ate less. He figured out they needed the Model A. The rest is history.

I really liked my Blackberry, but like all such devices of the era, it took a couple of hours to set one up, including a vast expansion of one’s cuss word vocabulary and long conversations with Korean guys named “Steve.” My wife decided she wanted an iPhone. I tried to talk her out of it, saying it seemed to be basically a toy with fancy packaging. But she was not to be dissuaded and she got one.

I volunteered to set it up. It took 15 minutes to set up. The damn thing worked beautifully and intuitively. My wife was right. I started paying more attention to Apple. Over the next few years, I became a convert. First my computer, then my laptop, finally the phone. I never looked back.

 The Way of the World. Hear Those Footsteps Behind You?

Meanwhile, Blackberry was losing market share to Apple at a rate that could best be described as hemorrhaging.  Other smart phones came on the market and further sliced up the market pie. It is a story that repeats itself over and over in business. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Companies that ride on their laurels are inevitably overtaken and eventually bought out or starved out. Sometimes such outcomes are inevitable as competitors stand up, but often it is a failure of the once invincible leader to stay lean and leaning forward.

Remember when we did not say “make a copy?” We said “go xerox that document.” John Deere was the very definition of farm equipment. “Let’s get a Coke” was the universal phrase for getting a soft drink. And so on.

One of the beauties of the often (and often fairly) maligned capitalist system is the priority it puts on competition and innovation. Companies come and go. In that ebb and flow we as consumers are blessed with constantly improving products and services at competitive prices. When that system gets unbalanced, with competition cut out, we all pay the price in mediocre, unreliable, overpriced goods and services.

Hmm, I am typing this on a 5-year-old computer. Time to see what’s new out there. Think I will get on my iphone and do some shopping.

              Bill Clontz

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4 replies to The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

  1. Bill – I am with you. I was Apple resistant for many years and now I have an old iPod in a drawer, iPhone 13, IMac Desktop, iPad and Apple Air Buds and an Apple TV Box. I love their design and how they integrate seamlessly with each other. I really love the Apple Box remote as it is a thing of beauty and fits my hand so well. I am now a true Apple convert but sometimes wonder what is next? Haven’t thought of a Blackberry in years. Thanks for that memory.

    • Yeah, I did not mention that new remote. An excellent example of attention to detail and good engineering. Apple is rarely the first out with something, but they inevitably do it better than anyone else when they come to market with something.

  2. I applaud your willingness to type the sentence, “My wife was right.”

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