The Blackberry is dead. Officially. The Company recently announced that the remaining Blackberry operating system and software would no longer be available. And Blackberry warns, “devices running these legacy services and software …will no longer reliably function.” (Were there any such devices left?) Ah, the Blackberry. Rest in Peace. You served us well, at least for a time. And you ushered in the era of remote work.
Back in the day, Blackberries were ubiquitous, especially among us lawyers. You have to understand: email exploded in the late 90s and early 2000s, especially among lawyers (Remember When Richard Susskind predicted email would dominate with lawyers and everyone scoffed?). But there was one problem. You had to have a computer to access it. And laptops were more or less still is not terribly functional nor supported by most law offices. So that meant being tied to a desktop computer, typically located in your office for security and cost reasons. Plus, WIFI was sketchy and slow at best. So that meant you had to use a dial-up modem to access anything. Try doing that from a coffee shop. Or a hotel room.
So, by and large, we all worked in our offices. Or we had pagers that told us to call the office to find out information. We had cell phones, but the keyboards had three letters for each number. Try typing the kind of emails lawyers often need to send that way. It took forever. Working remote was, to say the least, a challenge.
But then along came this magical device called the Blackberry
But then along came this magical device called the Blackberry made by something called Research in Motion (whatever that was). All of a sudden, you could get emails anywhere! Anywhere! Your home, your car (heralding the dawn of texting while driving). The coffee shop. The beach. Your kids’ swim meets. And to top it all, it fit right in your pocket. No bulky laptop. No modem. No wifi needed. Freedom.
Yes, the first Blackberries were pretty bare bones. Tiny screen, no color. But who cared? You could send and receive emails from any place at all. Remote work became a real thing! They spread faster than Omicron, gaining the nickname “Crackberry.”
The keyboards and display got better and better. (I still think the Blackberry physical keyboard was the best one ever for emails.) The devices got better and faster. Color, sleek design. And every lawyer seemingly had one. They constantly buzzed (till we figured out how to turn that off).
And then, just like that, they were gone. The iPhone came along. Cell phones became smartphones. They started having real usable touch screen keyboards. But more than that, wifi got better and faster. We wanted access to the internet, to music, to cameras. And the BlackBerry provided none of these things, at least well.
So you either gave up the Blackberry for a device that didn’t do emails well, or you didn’t get these added elements and stuck with the Blackberry. Or, like me, you carried two devices. One for work and one for fun. (One of my partners would always say when asked why he carried two devices that he would always have a backup if he lost one. But for me, carrying two devices doubled the chances of losing one of them).
But then, gradually, keyboards on smartphones got better. So while they weren’t as good as the Blackberry’s, they were good enough. And we wanted the extra features the smartphones gave us. So we gave up the Blackberry.
BlackBerry has died the way it lived—attached to a physical keyboard
Blackberry, like Kodak, like Blockbuster, like a whole host of companies, couldn’t evolve. And it lost market share like ice cream melting on a hot day. (As Michael Simon put it in his excellent MacWorld article, “BlackBerry has died the way it lived—attached to a physical keyboard).”
Until finally, only one other lawyer in an 800 person law firm and I were still using them. I remember the sad day when our IT director called us both in and said I regret to inform you, but we just can’t support Blackberry anymore for two people. The support and use costs were just too high. (Instead of reducing cost in times of declining market share, Blackberry kept increasing it.
So quicker than you could say, Jack Robinson, Blackberries became a thing of the past. Like Palm Pilots before it, a relic of the technological age. Sure, there are many business lessons in an age of rapid change to be learned. For a good understanding of exactly what happened, read the excellent book by Jacquie McNish, Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry.
But I still look back with fondness at the Blackberry. It showed us that remote work was possible. It freed us from the office. It whetted our appetite for more. And look where we are today.
R.I.P. Blackberry. We loved you.