Cast your mind back to 2010, when Blackberry was at the height of its appeal. Tap tap tapping away on that qwerty keyboard. Exchanging BBM pins. Swapping batteries with a friend to charge your phone. (Here’s a full list of long-lost features if you want to feed the nostalgia).
Blackberry meant business and back then it had 43% market share. Three years later the company was edging towards oblivion with its share of the market collapsing to less than six per cent.
Touchscreens were the start of the end for Blackberry. The company was too slow to recognise the trend, launching its Blackberry Torch model in 2011, which was too little, years too late. This lapse in judgement – or responsiveness – was compounded by making Bing the default search engine for its devices and, later, by WhatsApp’s decision to stop support for older devices.
This week, the firm has announced the end of the iconic devices for good. Blackberry hasn’t made new handsets since 2016 and will no longer maintain the technology that allows remaining vintage versions to “reliably function”.
The Canadian company, which now focuses its activity on cybersecurity, said it had been maintaining the devices over recent years “as an expression of thanks” to loyal customers.
Now, however, forlorn handset owners won’t be able to make or receive calls, send texts, use wi-fi or access mobile data (with the exception of post-2016 Blackberry-branded phones, which use the Android operating system).
When it ceased production in 2016 the BBC penned a mock obituary to “the businessman’s best friend”, a marketing slogan that betrays, in and of itself, a lack of modernity. And while the company still pulls in around $1bn in revenue for its other services, the managed decline should be a cautionary lesson in fads, fashion and keeping up.
That lesson is innovate or die. In a fast-moving consumer market, customers are fickle and you need to offer new things and better value than the competition. Just look at your mobile phone to see how many of its apps have rendered classic things redundant: your watch, your digital camera, your need for cash, or your landline.
And yet, as I consign my trusty purple blackberry to my growing museum of redundant phones, the impact of built-in obsolescence feels at odds with the mantra of sustainability we now espouse.
The environmental impact of annually updating our laptops and phones is huge, but often ignored, and as the march of AI and robotics increasingly renders many human tasks unnecessary or uneconomic, are we responding and adapting fast enough? Or will we too end up on the shelves of history? Darwin’s theory of evolution doesn’t guarantee any species a permanent future.