When BlackBerry Reigned (the Queen Got One!), and How It Fell

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Coming from a tiny Canadian company, it was an almost absurdly audacious proposition. In 1998, when many corporations were leery of e-mail, Research In Motion began selling the idea of sending it wirelessly through a device that ran on a single AA battery. But thanks to a tiny, yet effective, keyboard that brought the world thumb-typing and a network that ensured security, BlackBerrys became standard equipment on Wall Street and in Washington.

While BlackBerry, as the company is now known, created and dominated what became the smartphone market, competitors, notably Palm, failed. But the company's co-chief executives missed the real threat: they initially dismissed Apple's iPhone in as little more than a toy.

After that, all their effords were too late. On Friday, BlackBerry reported a $965 million loss, and BlackBerry's future now appears to rest with a bargain-basement, highly conditional offer from its largest shareholder, Fairfax Financial. Whatever happens to the company, many expect that BlackBerry smartphones are now destined to become relics.

Below, a short history.

• 2005

Corporate America panics as NTP, a patent holding company, threatens to shut down BlackBerry service in the United States after talks over a proposed $450 million settlement break down. RIM eventually agrees to end the case for $612.5 million.

• 2006

The first product intended for consumers rather than corporate or government users, the BlackBerry Pearl replaces BlackBerry's side mounted trackwheel with a small, white trackball. It also has a MP-3 music player.

Webster's New World College Dictionary names "crackberry" the "new word of the year." And Britney Spears dumps her husband, Kevin Federline, via BlackBerry text.

• 2007

RIM takes a $250 million charge for undervaluing of stock options granted to executives. The co-chief executives give back $5 million. The iPhone makes its debut in July.

• 2008

President Obama takes office and, after negotiating with the Secret Service, keeps his BlackBerry. The BlackBerry Storm, the company's first attempt at a touch screen, is released. It is a failure.

• 2009

BlackBerry starts its App World store, which is immediately faulted for a lack of high-quality apps.

• 2010

Queen Elizabeth visits BlackBerry and gets a phone. The BlackBerry Torch is released and includes a touch screen and a slide-out keyboard.

Unable to monitor communications on BlackBerry's secure system, the United Arab Emirates threatens to shut down BlackBerry data services. RIM buys QNX Software Systems in an effort to create a BlackBerry operating system that can compete effectively against Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

• 2011

RIM's tablet computer is introduced. Among its more surprising shortcomings is its lack of e-mail software. The tablets are eventually sold at liquidation prices. RIM cuts 2,000 jobs.

A BlackBerry network failure shuts down service to about 70 million users for as many as three days.

• 2012

After Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, the company's co-chairman and co-chief executives, resign, the new chief executive, Thorsten Heins, announces that the new line of BlackBerrys will be more than a year late. The company's share price collapses. 5,000 more job cuts are announced.

A network failure blacks out service in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

• 2013

The meltdown: new phones are late to market and fail to sell; the company announces drastic layoffs and a loss of $965 million; an investor offers, sort of, to buy the company for a fraction of its peak value.

Alicia Keys is named BlackBerry "creative director." She later posts on Twitter from an iPhone.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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