The company that pioneered the smartphone and blazed the path to the insane amounts of computing power we carry in our pockets today was Research In Motion. When RIM introduced the BlackBerry email pager in 1999, it had forged a new technology that allowed mobile devices to access internet data over a wireless network. Thus began the era of the smartphone!
RIM is a tech startup located in the pretty city of Waterloo, Ontario. Founded by Mike Laziridis and using a play on the phrase “poetry in motion”, RIM offered an email routing service partnered with a Microsoft Exchange server. The BlackBerry pager took off in Germany and RIM was able to attract top IT talent from places like Silicon Valley in California and Vancouver, BC, two of the world’s top tech locales. In the year 2000, 14 months after the launch of the email pager, RIM introduced the world’s first smartphone, the BlackBerry 957.
Over the next 7 years RIM would dominate the mobile phone markets around the world with a variety of different BlackBerry devices. Enterprise units designed solely for corporate and government customers featured built-in security over BlackBerry’s own Waterloo-located servers, earning RIM the contract to supply the United States Department of Defence, Department of State and the White House with exclusive contracts. On the public markets BlackBerry phones were the leader of cell phone technology, particularly in Europe and Japan where they became the sign of success and affluence.
RIM enjoyed spectacular growth in this period, employing more than 1,000 people in Waterloo and being named one of Canada’s top 50 employers. RIM distributed generous benefits and stock options to it’s employees, and as RIM public stock soared to $117 per share, it became the most valuable phone company in the world.
All that changed in mid-2007, however, when Apple introduced the iPhone to the US and Canadian markets. The sleek, all-touch-screen, highly intelligent and user-friendly iPhone was light years ahead of RIM’s BlackBerry products and private and corporate consumers alike flocked to the new gadgets. The smartphone universe had been radically altered, and RIM shares began to drop, first to $110 following the iPhone’s release, and then to $70 by 2008. By 2009 RIM stocks were all but wiped out, and when, in 2010, Android phones were released onto the market in direct competition with iPhone, BlackBerry became nearly irrelevant.
At the end of 2010, trying to compete with the Android devices and Apple’s new iPad tablet devices, RIM released the BlackBerry PlayBook, a user-friendly, versatile and well-built tablet. It’s small screen size, however, was unable to woo customers away from the iPad and although RIM did enjoy some sales success they had to concede that the PlayBook was ultimately a failure in the market.
All was not lost for this pioneering Canadian start-up, however. RIM engineers concentrated on a couple of extremely secure and versatile BlackBerry handsets for use in the corporate world, and managed to secure government contracts in Australia, the UK and with several European Union departments, as well as with several large corporate entities including Delta Airlines. The BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Curve, while popular among business and government, did not do well on the public markets. By 2011 the wide, full HD screens of Apple and Android handsets, and in particular the thousands of apps available to those handsets, blew BlackBerry devices out of the water, and RIM looked ready to fold up and declare bankruptcy.
In January of 2012 RIM’s CEO’s, including its founder, stepped down and businessman Thorsten Heins took over the reigns. The company restructured and managed to stop the stampede of investors running away with the announcement of a new BlackBerry device, the BlackBerry 10, that would be introduced to compete directly with the new generations of iPhones and Android devices (by this point the smartphone market was dominated by a battle between Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy, and RIM BlackBerry wasn’t even on consumer’s radars).
RIM’s main problem with releasing the BlackBerry 10 wasn’t the device itself but getting enough app developers on board to make the produce worthwhile to consumers. Developers invest a lot of money and effort into creating apps for both iOS, Apple’s operating system, and the Android operating system. It has been difficult to convince them to create apps for a third, BlackBerry, system when there isn’t any sign of a payoff, particular with the financial difficulties the company has faced. Nevertheless, RIM was able to attract enough developers to finally launch their all-in device in January 2013: the BlackBerry 10.
At the same time that Thorsten Heins announced the release of the BlackBerry 10, he also announced that RIM would be changing its name to simply “BlackBerry”, to create more synchronicity between the product and the manufacturer. The buzz around the BB10 and the name change arrested the freefall of RIM stock, which had fallen to below $7 per share by 2013. Stock prices actually began to rise again, to above $17 per share by February 2013. Whether or not the BlackBerry 10 can save the company, and the fiesty Canadian startup that pioneered the era of the smartphone around the world, is yet to be seen.