RIM’s BlackBerry: A Brief Retrospective

Consumer technologies come and go, but BlackBerry and its manufacturer Research in Motion has managed to stay alive since the mid-1980s. That’s not an easy task for a company struggling to make an impact in the world of mobile devices. When Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie were holding the reins of Research In Motion, the smartphone world had enough evidence that showed RIM’s successes and the innovations that would BlackBerry’s continued dominance. But then the mobile manufacturer started having trouble competing with the hoards of Androids and the iPhones that suddenly started gaining popularity. However, today, with its latest phone BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry may have finally surpassed its rivals.

BlackBerrys are gadgets with a cult following, inspiring a fan-boyish devotion probably matched only by the Apple products. But while Apple’s corporate history is known to many and even taught in many business schools, not many are too familiar with a comprehensive corporate history of RIM (Research In Motion), the enigmatic company behind the iconic BlackBerry phones and their many secrets.

The First Consumer Device by BlackBerry

In 1999, Research in Motion (RIM) released its first consumer device: a BlackBerry two-way pager that let people send messages back and forth. Basically, the mobile device let people text each other instead of using one-way pagers that didn’t let receivers respond.

The first BlackBerry had some novelty, but it didn’t exactly change the world. At the time, pay phones were everywhere, so it was easy for people with pagers to return calls.  Of course, that was about to change very soon.

BlackBerry Takes on the Phone Industry

By 2002, RIM had taken a step into the phone industry. The BlackBerry 5810 had limited capabilities, but it made other early mobile devices look tame in comparison.

The 5810 just had one problem: it wasn’t much of a phone. Users had to plug-in a headset to talk to each other, which made it look more like a glorified pager or Web browser than an actual smart phone.

The BlackBerry Smartphone

Things had changed considerably by 2003, when RIM released a BlackBerry phone that let people send and receive emails as well as talk to each other.

The word “BlackBerry” immediately became synonymous with business leaders who needed to stay connected. If you wanted 24-hour access to your email, then you needed a BlackBerry. Nothing else came close to matching the phone’s power and relevance.

RIM Loses Its Lead

RIM had created one of the decade’s most reliable, innovative devices. But things move quickly in the tech world. Being on top just means that someone wants to knock you down as soon as possible.

It didn’t take long before companies started developing more advanced smart phones that could browse the Internet, send texts, place phone calls, and even run small pieces of software called apps.

Unfortunately, RIM hadn’t anticipated these changes. It had a great product, but other companies were leapfrogging beyond the BlackBerry’s abilities.

The company had never shied away from challenges, though. Instead of letting the BlackBerry become a relic of the early 2000s, it got to work on a new device that would give consumers all the tools that they wanted in their phones.

A New BlackBerry for a New World

The BlackBerry 10 promises to put the company back in the running as one of the industry’s leading companies. RIM has learned from its competitors and included many of the features that today’s consumers expect from Web-savvy devices.

With the new device, users get a touchscreen that makes it easy for them to place calls, browse the Web, and launch applications. Anyone who thought BlackBerry had fallen behind now realizes that the company was just honing its products to overtake a difficult market.

What BlackBerry device do you remember from the past? Do you think the BlackBerry 10 will meet the needs of today’s tech-savvy consumers?

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