It's mobile prehistory at this point, but there was once a time when the ultimate smartphone you could get was a BlackBerry. Before Apple's iPhone arrived, Google's first Android prototypes were basically BlackBerry clones.
It's easy to think of the stratospheric rise of Android and the iPhone over the past few years as inevitable, but we sometimes forget just what outsiders both of these platforms once were. Back in 2006, neither Apple nor Google had established relationships with carriers. Neither had a loyal following of business users to bolster its consumer proposition. And neither had the best text-input method ever devised for a pocketable device. BlackBerry, then known as Research In Motion, did. And it's partially because of those advantages that BlackBerry is this week shuttering its phone design and manufacturing for good.
The story of BlackBerry's mobile demise stretches so far back that we wrote a forensic dissection of it back in early 2012. It's actually to the company's credit that it managed its crash landing as well and for as long as it has done. BlackBerry persists today and has refashioned itself around its enterprise and software services, which have been propping it up for a while, and doesn't look to be in danger of following in Nokia or Palm's ill-fated footsteps.
But the reason why BlackBerry is interesting today is that it provides a prime example of an incumbent business being disrupted by sprightlier newcomers. Success, as BlackBerry had a decade ago, breeds two interrelated negatives: conservatism and complacency.
At the time of the iPhone and Android's arrival, the whole mobile industry was on the precipice of moving to bigger touchscreen displays. That was the destination that technology was evolving toward, and it was a trend that Apple jumped on with perfect timing, and later companies like HTC and Samsung exploited to the fullest. HTC was never influential enough to unilaterally dictate that screen manufacturers build bigger, and the prime reason for its repeated success at the start of this decade was that it had nothing to lose and just kept moving to the latest spec with the greatest speed. Most Android OEMs, in fact — companies like LG and Sony along with Samsung and HTC — essentially functioned as dumb conduits for the latest specs. Dual-core processors become available and LG was so fast to implement them that it got a Guinness World Record for it (and a bunch of dissatisfied users owing to itsbuggy performance).
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