Charting The BlackBerry Death Spiral

The potential sale of BlackBerry has been a long time coming. Here’s a look at some of the major missteps the company has made over the years.

Mark Lennihan, File / AP

BlackBerry’s death spiral is, in a twisted sort of way, a wonder to behold.

Less than four years ago, BlackBerry — at the time Research In Motion — held a commanding share of the smartphone market in the United States. A few years before, Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, a device that was at the time criticized for its lack of a keyboard and its high price.

Fast-forward just a few short years and BlackBerry’s share price — along with its market share in the United States, once considered a stronghold — have completely cratered. And now, the company has said it is open to exploring “strategic alternatives,” which is business code for saying it is for sale.

ComScore data

4. The biggest mistake BlackBerry ever made was underestimating the iPhone.

Aly Song / Reuters

“It’s kind of one more entrant into an already very busy space with lots of choice for consumers,” former co-CEO Jim Balsillie told Reuters at the time about Apple. “But in terms of a sort of a sea-change for BlackBerry, I would think that’s overstating it.”

This attitude would define RIM’s approach to capturing large businesses and government contracts dating all the way back to 2007. At the time, these contracts were bought up by the companies themselves and then the devices were distributed to employees.

As the presence of the iPhone continued to grow, employees over time would demand that their employers allow them to use their iPhones instead of a BlackBerry. This is referred to in the industry as the “consumerization of enterprise technology.” And it would, essentially, go on to become BlackBerry’s undoing.

However, being caught flat-footed is not a cardinal sin. Facebook was caught flat-footed when it came to the shift to mobile devices, but it has been able to regain its footing. RIM, however, continued to make a dramatic number of mistakes.

5. The BlackBerry Playbook tablet flopped.

Reuters/Gustau Nacarino / Reuters

Launched in 2011, well after the iPad had already become a mainstay in consumer technology, the PlayBook was a complete dud, shipping only a few million units throughout its entire lifetime. It was initially plagued with problems, like being tethered to a BlackBerry device, and failed to catch on in the corporate enterprise market, which had already begun rolling out the iPad in force.

6. BlackBerry 10 was constantly delayed.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Even after new CEO Thorsten Heins took over, the next-generation BlackBerry operating system, dubbed BlackBerry 10, faced constant delays throughout 2012. the device was delayed so much that BlackBerry’s senior staff had to plead with developers and fans to remain patient.

And as the delays for BlackBerry 10 kept coming, newer Android devices, like Samsung’s Galaxy, that were seen to be on par with the next-generation iPhones, continued to chip away at any potential market share that BlackBerry could recapture with the new operating system.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Blackberry Z10 smartphones are on display in Pasadena, California.

9. And when it did come out, the next-generation BlackBerry proved to be a me-too smartphone.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Though reviews ran from lukewarm to positive, when the BlackBerry Z10 eventually launched at the beginning of 2013 — a touchscreen smartphone like the iPhone — it underwhelmed an already saturated market. Worse yet, it had an app ecosystem that was nowhere near the size or sophistication of Android or the iPhone, ultimately leading to disappointing sales.

10. Inexplicably, the keyboard-equipped phones that set Blackberry apart from its competitors was de-emphasized in favor of a me-too touchscreen.

The Canadian Press, Geoff Robins / AP

Another weird decision by BlackBerry was to release the me-too level touchscreen smartphone first and delay the launch of the version of Blackberry 10 that featured its iconic keyboard, which would have given BlackBerry a core point of differentiation in a market saturated with high-end smartphones from Samsung and Apple.

11. And yet, BlackBerry still remains committed to its old software.

RAVEENDRAN / Getty Images

Just today, BlackBerry unveiled a new smartphone running last-generation software geared toward cheaper emerging markets where BlackBerry 7 — the last version of the operating system — is still in demand.

BlackBerry still has a presence in some international markets, but it seems to have a neatly split identity tied to both BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry 7.

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