The Day – BlackBerry classic stops working on Tuesday


The classic BlackBerry is forced into retirement.

A pioneer of mobile email and paragon of enterprise connectivity, it reigned supreme in the days when physical keyboards had yet to yield to touchscreens. But next Tuesday, the cellphone-turned-status-symbol will become a relic of more than a bygone era as the transition to 5G wireless technology progresses.

After its “end of life date,” as BlackBerry calls it, devices running on older BlackBerry operating systems and software “will no longer function reliably,” the company – which has since turned towards enterprise software and cybersecurity – to users in a press release at the end of December. Older devices won’t be able to text or dial 911, putting them firmly in the arcane realm, along with floppy disks and rotary dial phones. You may still be able to play Brick Breaker.

BlackBerry was among the first devices to introduce the tension that comes with the erosion of boundaries between home and office. The devices were loved and ridiculed for the difficulty of putting them down, earning them the nickname “Crackberries”. The wars waged against BlackBerry use – at the movies, at dinner tables, at ballet recitals and T-ball games, while crossing the street – foreshadowed the endless tussle for attention and presence. that many face in the age of ubiquitous smartphones, social media and Slack.

Now, the disappearance of the device occurs at a time when the professional world takes into account the cost of being eternally reachable by his employer. More than a year and a half into the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom fatigue is rampant and workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers and reassessing their relationship with the job itself, citing burnout as the one of the main reasons for quitting.

BlackBerry’s retirement is part of the so-called 2G/3G extinction, which is underway as carriers dismantle outdated and inefficient pieces of infrastructure – which were once the norm for connectivity – to make way for new networks that are safer, more profitable and easier to maintain. AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are all expected to drop 3G services this year, but the road to 5G remains strewn with hurdles and slowdowns, from regulatory hurdles to a lack of hardware and skilled professionals. The sunset will impact more than flip phones: many ‘internet of things’ devices, from farming equipment to security systems to fire alarms, are still running on 3G, and adapting got late.

In its first version, the BlackBerry was not a phone but essentially a glorified two-way pager, a “revolutionary wireless solution for mobile professionals”, according to its maker, Research In Motion. When the first version that could be considered a smartphone arrived, in 2002, it required the use of headphones.

For years, BlackBerry has been the beacon of personal technology, indispensable to politicians, celebrities and professionals. Kim Kardashian owned multiple BlackBerries, just in case one broke, and President Barack Obama refused to give up his BlackBerry after taking office.

Research In Motion enjoyed years as one of the best smartphone makers in the world, and it led the way with features like web browsing capability, predictive text, secure instant messaging, and Bluetooth. He was considered a leader in security. But the company has been slow to realize the value of apps and touchscreens. As recently as 2014, former BlackBerry chief executive John Chen still insisted that the company’s strategy would be “increasingly qwerty-centric”.

But the devices sometimes left kids frustrated with their distracting effect on parents: A 2006 Wall Street Journal story, “BlackBerry Orphans,” featured a 4-year-old girl who tried to throw her mother’s BlackBerry into the restroom, and a ninth-grader whose parents tapped their way through her graduation ceremony and dance recitals. An Austin student said he was “really annoyed” by his mom’s BlackBerry: “She’s always focused on that damn thing.”

The advent of the iPhone triggered a tsunami of change in the smartphone market. While BlackBerry had always appealed to the workaholic business consumer who prioritized email, the iPhone offered an accessible interface that appealed to people inside and outside of the professional world.

After the launch of the iPhone in 2007, BlackBerry’s stature eroded: its market share fell from 20% in 2009 to just 5% in 2012, according to Business Insider. By 2016, when the company stopped making the BlackBerry and focused on software, its market share had fallen to zero as customers were bombarded with touchscreen options from rivals like Apple, Google and Samsung.

BlackBerry die-hards can look forward to a comeback. Austin-based OnwardMobility is supposed to release a 5G version of the BlackBerry, but it’s been mysteriously delayed: Its website still says the revival is coming in 2021.

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