BlackBerry, as BlackBerry users know it, is finished. The company that was almost single-handedly responsible for the creation of always-on mobile culture but stopped short of winning the smartphone race is facing some grim options. The company, now, is a shadow of its former self; soon, it will be lucky if it’s still recognizable as a company at all.
This is a situation in which hindsight is perfectly unobscured: BlackBerry made an enormous bet against the style of product that ended up replacing it as most Americans’ first smartphone. It’s easy to see what happened. But it’s less clear what happens next. What does collapse mean for a company so large and culturally significant? Floyd Norris of the Times explains it in terms of much older computer manufacturer DEC, whose narrative of market failure traces a trajectory similar to BlackBerry’s.
But BlackBerry isn’t quite DEC, nor is it Gateway or Palm. It’s a company that even today has millions of active a loyal users, who don’t just purchase BlackBerry products but use them every hour of every day — who live in them, and will soon have to live in something else. BlackBerry is less like a company than a country. A failed state: BlackBerria.
BlackBerria exhibits all the classic signs of a collapsing country. Today, it’s the kind of place that might compel the State Department to issue a travel advisory. It’s a land where crime goes unpunished, where fires burn unextinguished, where citizens wander the streets alive but dazed, where the future is too foggy to inspire any feeling but despondency.
BlackBerria is officially up for sale, and will be sold from a position of weakness — its suitors will look more like the World Bank than casual bond buyers. Meanwhile, its crisis-time leader, whose public misjudgments are excruciatingly well documented but who is flattered by his monstrous predecessors, stands to become fabulously rich as the result of his country’s full failure. (BlackBerria’s deposed former leaders, for all their failures, are among the richest men in the region.)
BlackBerria’s economy is feeling the consequences of instability and neglect, the result of a “loss of control of its territory” — one of the classic failed-state indicators, along with erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions and an inability to provide public services. Just last week it was discovered that a single developer was able to flood App World, BlackBerry’s central marketplace, with over 45,000 hastily built apps — a sizable fraction of the store’s total. This is not the behavior of a healthy and well-regulated marketplace.
At the time of writing, the primary storefront of App World is overgrown and infested with low-quality products and bad omens. Among the most popular is Windows Live Messenger, an app for service that was formally discontinued by Microsoft some time ago; expensive third-party apps for Google Maps, a free service; “Cute Fancy Themes for BBM”; Followgram, which is an Instagram viewer that can’t post pictures; and 4G Signal Booster Advanced, a paid app which almost certainly cannot accomplish what it claims. Only the biggest of the big names are here, and not even all of them.
The most popular free pastime in BlackBerria appears to be a derivative game called “Candy Blast.” The most popular paid game is “Candy World 2,” followed closely by “Revenge of the Pigs,” a crude clone of an otherwise unattainable cultural import. This matches the last and most fatal of the signs of a failed state: an inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. Relations with Instagram, for example, appear to have broken down beyond repair. Some blame its loss of stature in the international community on trade imbalance: In recent years it had stopped manufacturing many of its most venerable products in favor of unproven imports. Foreign investors, however, have pulled out en masse.
BlackBerria is left with few options. It’s been forced to tap into its vast but decreasingly valuable natural resources, shopping around and attempting to enforce its patent portfolio. It’s attempting sell its old hardware to newer, less powerful markets, where BlackBerry’s influence may be worth a few moments of dominance before it is inevitably overwhelmed by more persuasive and powerful colonists. BBM, BlackBerria’s most popular region and trade corridor, is considering secession, and nobody has the heart to stop it.
Population growth has been both a cause and a result of BlackBerria’s rapid decline, outpaced only by its plummeting GDP, which is less than one-tenth of what it once was. The number of citizens of BlackBerria, while still high in absolute terms, is the lowest it’s ever been relative to the rest of the world since people started counting such things.
Though it’s cold comfort for old-line BlackBerrians, the country — among the most ancient in the world — will leave a legacy. It was first in so many things, bolstered but ultimately doomed by its inward cultural focus and tendency for isolationism, which will spare surrounding countries from the most severe externalities. Other nations will treat it with wistful dignity in their history books and move on.
Rest assured: BlackBerria’s citizens will be safe. But their country will disappear, and soon they will have no choice but to leave.