The Rise and Fall of BlackBerry: Is the Mobile Market Impenetrable?

Posted by on August 13th, 2013

Monday morning, the breaking news application on my Samsung GS3 notified me of BlackBerry’s plans to explore a possible sale of the company ($BBRY shot up 10% on 8/12 in light of this announcement). Now, as much as I don’t really believe this qualifies as breaking news, it says a lot about the current state of the smartphone industry, and the tech space in general.

It is theorized that eventually, we will reach an age in which technology will advance faster than we do. And if you take a closer look at BlackBerry’s recent history, you may start to believe that we are approaching that period; if we aren’t in the midst of it already.

In 1999, just 14 years ago, Research in Motion unveiled the original BlackBerry device; which was the first mainstream platform for mobile email. Groundbreaking stuff, truly.

Fast forward to 2009, RIM was still the dominant player in the space. BlackBerry owners had a culture all their own, with a ton of social taboos; such as: don’t you dare leave the house without your leather belt holster for that corporate-issued World-Edition, you better dedicate several hours of the day to setting your Brick-Breaker high score, and was anything more heart-wrenching than waiting for a BBM response from your girlfriend when you know she read the last one over an hour ago? (Cue the Old Classic: “I know you read that!! I saw the R!!!”)

Present day 2013: According to Forbes, the former dominant name in mobile has experienced a 93% drop in share price over the last 5 years ($BBRY, $RIM).

So, what happened? The answer: most would say the iPhone; I would say complacency. While Apple ($AAPL) and Google ($GOOG) raced one another for that next innovation—that next big thing—BlackBerry remained tentative to abandon the same old platform. Thus, BlackBerry missed the transition to 4G, never met our needs for customization or personalization, and actually tried to sell us the Storm (For real? Clickable touch screen is all you got?).

About six months ago the Canadian tech company coupled their new line of “Z” series devices with a ramped up marketing effort. Aesthetically, the devices were gorgeous. And after officially changing their name from Research in Motion to BlackBerry and hiring Alicia Keys as their new creative director, their return to glory seemed imminent. Then…nobody bought any.

From where I’m sitting, the smartphone wars are over; today we make most of our choices based solely on brand allegiance and convenience. But does that mean the mobile market is impenetrable? No way. Could a better product pull me away from the Galaxy series? Absolutely. Active players obviously have the advantage; but with the GS series Samsung’s having taken a large percentage of the iPhone’s market share, a growing number of Window’s phone users, and the recent unveiling of the Moto X, I think it’s anyone’s game.

BlackBerry’s downfall is attributable to their choice to stick to tradition, rather than pursue innovation; to focus on what’s selling today, instead of what sells tomorrow. With the rate at which technology advances these days, even tech giants have to ride the wave…or they might get left behind.