A few years ago, this headline would have elicited deafening shrieks from the CrackBerry-addicted, which included pretty much all of Congress, top executives across the economy, and anyone else who thought himself important enough to constantly require access to e-mail — before that became the birthright of every twenty-something American.
In 2003, JayZ glorified the BlackBerry’s status as a necessary accoutrement of elite American life, rapping, “I’m in Boeing jets, Global Express / Out the country but the BlueBerry still connect.” In 2006, a patent-related lawsuit threatened to shut down BlackBerry service; court filings from BlackBerry-maker RIM argued that a Y2K-like apocalypse could result , with government at all levels paralyzed. The BlackBerry was the smartest of the smartphones, the only real option.
As so often with discombobulating insights, it was others’ reverence for simplicity and convenience that caused BlackBerry’s fall. The iPhone wasn’t the first device that allowed users to access their e-mail at all times. But its interface was better, its Web browser more attractive and its accessibility to third-party software vastly more flexible. Android phones are gobbling up more and more of the market for similarly basic reasons. Even the federal government over the past two years has upgraded to Apple and Google products in earnest .
Now, the BlackBerry shutdown just seems in character for these clunky legacy devices, compromising RIM’s reputation for even the most basic convenience — reliable e-mail delivery.
The erosion of BlackBerry’s hegemony is something to celebrate. But RIM’s continuing decline might not be. If the company could shake the so-five-years-ago stigma and get back in the game with more competitive products, it could yet contribute to making the rest of our lives easier, in simple ways that we probably can’t imagine right now. Three major competitors are usually better than two.
RIM can start by making sure its customers can access their e-mail.