From CrackBerry to 'depressing': The BlackBerry's 5-year fall

Remember the CrackBerry?

Five years ago, the buzzing gadget was all the rage -- the rock star of mobile communication and seemingly every office drone's high-tech status symbol.

Sober-minded professionals talked about BlackBerry addiction and "phantom vibrations" that caused users to reach for the devices even when they weren't actually doing anything.

"It's like Pavlov's dog," B. Marc Averitt, a technology investor, told The New York Times in 2007, referring to the gut-level longing users felt for the click-clack of the phone's keyboard and humming notice that a new personal message had arrived.

Fast-forward to Thursday, and what was the word?

"Depressing. That's the only word that comes to mind after reading the RIM Q1 financial results press release and listening to the conference call," Chris Umiastowski wrote for the site CrackBerry, which emerged in 2007, eight years after BlackBerry's first two-way paging device was released.

"(But) as crappy as the results were, I'm not going to write up a death certificate for RIM here."

He didn't. And that shows that the folks who still love their BlackBerry still really love their BlackBerry. But let's be clear: Some analysts do say it's over for the BlackBerry.

"Anyone who's been paying attention isn't surprised by BlackBerry maker Research In Motion's recent collapse," a blogger for ReadWriteWeb wrote. "It's unfortunate, but it's been inevitable."

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion announced Thursday it is laying off 5,000 people -- and said earnings for the past three months were significantly less than expected, with the company reporting a first-quarter loss of $518 million. Sales were down 40% from last year. Furthermore, the new operating system it's pinning its hopes on will be delayed until next year, or, a full year after it was originally expected.

Couple all of that with more reports that the company might be looking to sell off its once dominant service, and you had what amounted to a devastating head-kick for the Canadian company. It capped off a gut-punch of a financial year that has seen RIM's stock price drop 70%.

So, what happened? As an even more gadget-obsessed society than we were five years ago, how did we stop being BlackBerry fiends.

Well, how's this for cruel and cosmic irony? A day after the dismal report, something called the iPhone celebrated its fifth birthday.

You might have heard of it. About 217 million of them have been sold.

It may not have been the very first smartphone. But Apple made it sexy. And fun. And the BlackBerry, to many, would soon become the thing they give you at work.

"Apple's new iPhone could do to the cell phone market what the iPod did to the portable music player market: crush it pitilessly beneath the weight of its own superiority," Lev Grossman wrote for Time. "This is unfortunate for anybody else who makes cell phones, but it's good news for those of us who use them."

The guy has since written a book called "The Magicians." He must have had a crystal ball.

Critics say RIM was too slow to react. To be sure, it maintained (and, to some degree, still does) the hard-core business user more concerned about reliability and security than playing "Angry Birds." But for many, the thrill was gone.

By the time they brought a touchscreen BlackBerry to market, the second-generation iPhone 3G was already capturing hearts and minds.

And even the goal of becoming the "other smartphone" got further away when Google unleashed its Android operating system and opened it up to phone makers everywhere. The first Android phone, the HTC Dream, hit stores in October 2008, around the same time as the BlackBerry Thunder. Google's quicker response paid dividends, and now there are more phones running Android phones than there are iPhones.

Ditto all of the above for the BlackBerry Playbook, RIM's entry into the tablet market that, to be kind, failed to meet sales goals.

None of this, as CNNMoney notes, means your BlackBerry will be a useless brick in the near future. RIM still has 78 million subscribers and $2.2 billion in cash on hand.

But as a cultural icon, it's hard to see the magic of the mid-2000s returning for the BlackBerry. It's enough to make you want to tap out a condolence note for the company -- even if many of us will be doing so on a touchscreen.


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