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Logic Board: Bye, Bye, BlackBerry


Photo by Eric Leamen

Logic Board is a recurring column that examines the biggest news stories and controversies in the technology industry with a rational, logical eye.

Earlier this week, BlackBerry announced that it had accepted a conditional buyout offer from Toronto-based Fairfax Financial, valuing the company at $4.7 billion and effectively putting an end to one of the longest and hardest falls any tech company has ever taken.

I’ve seen a number of different sentiments expressed over this news. Those in the tech industry are none too surprised that BlackBerry as we once knew it is going away. Some users are disappointed at the news that BlackBerry will retreat from the consumer market, instead choosing to focus on the only markets it has left: enterprise and government. Others are curious what value Fairfax Chief Executive Prem Watsa sees in BlackBerry, which reported an operating loss of nearly $1 billion in the last quarter

By far the most popular reaction I’ve heard from my fellow Canadians is one of continued pride and support. Canadians have always felt a sense of patriotic pride for BlackBerry, not just as a company, but as a brand and (once upon a time) an innovator. This pride remains strong, and BlackBerrys are still commonplace in Canada. To this day I see hundreds of people clacking away on little plastic keyboards as they go about their lives.

However, as both a Canuck and a lover of technology, I can not and will not defend BlackBerry simply because it is a Canadian company. Once a symbol of Canadian innovation, BlackBerry has grown withered and outdated; a company in shambles, lacking vision and a clear understanding of where the smartphone industry is going. For far too long it sat idly by, ceding market share to Apple and Google. It continually shipped outdated products, and half-baked products. It delayed its one most promising product more than once, and fumbled the launch of another. Former CEO and co-founder Mike Lazaridis even threw a tantrum during a BBC interview, refusing to acknowledge a mistake. Blunder after blunder, tripping over themselves. Honestly, BlackBerry’s behaviour has been an embarrassment to Canada, as the rest of the technology world looked on with pity.

The simple fact is BlackBerry’s downfall is a product of its own doing. It stopped innovating, plain and simple. It started in 2007, days after Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone. Google responded quickly, shipping Android in 2008, and Microsoft followed with Windows Phone in 2010. RIM executives, on the other hand, could not believe what Apple had shown off, and internal consensus about the iPhone at RIM was that it was too good to be true – Apple must be lying. It took them six years to finally ship BlackBerry 10, its first real attempt at a modern touchscreen mobile OS, but by that point it was too little, too late.

So no, I am not sad that BlackBerry as a consumer brand is dead, because its actions over the last few years, and its attitude towards the changing mobile landscape, garner no sympathy. For us Canadians, we will always be able to claim that a company built in our great nation popularized the smartphone, and once owned the market. But our continued support of BlackBerry as a Canadian innovator is unfounded, because an innovator it is no longer.

The technology industry is ever changing, and you do not get to dominate unless you adapt and change with it. Competitors got that, BlackBerry did not. Canadian or not, BlackBerry stopped doing what it was supposed to do: produce great, new technology. If you stop running, you deserve to lose the race. In BlackBerry’s case, it couldn’t win the race, because by the time it actually started running, its competitors had already crossed the finish line.