I met up with a friend last night and I noticed her BlackBerry Bold, glimmering in all its neglected classicness. Although I myself sported a Curve not three or so years ago, a lot has changed since then, and it was almost jarring to see a 20-something armed with a non-work-related BBerry. We all know about RIM’s financial woes, and many see the Canadian company’s once-proud BlackBerry brand as more or less replaced by iPhones and Android-powered devices. Some have even prematurely declared RIM dead. But, as Ian Paul at PCWorld noted today, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the aging telecom pioneer.
The fact is, while the popular smartphones on the market have impressive operating systems, compute power and graphic displays, the BBerry is still a darn good device for all the basic functions a phone should perform: calling people, texting and sending emails. Sure, they aren’t known for their web browsing capabilities, and their app selection leaves much to be desired, but BBerries are reliably good at facilitating conversations between one person and another. And that’s what phones are supposed to do, right?
TechCrunch’s Matt Burns recently said “There still isn’t a better e-mail/messaging device than a BlackBerry.” And you know what? I tend to agree. As I noted to my friend, while I love my HTC, I’m not a huge fan of touch screen typing, and there’s nothing quite as efficient as a BBerry keypad. Now the point of all this isn’t necessarily whether RIM will survive, be sold, make a comeback, etc. Rather, the bigger picture is, how are we going to think about mobile devices going forward? Is the trend toward endless apps and mobile multi-functionality inevitable?
Now, you can’t argue with the fact that people are coming to take powerful, pocket-sized computers for granted. Smartphone sales outpaced PC sales last year, and it’s clear that younger generations spend more time doing personal computing on their iPhones than on their laptops. But does that mean the mobile platform of today will predominate in the near future?
Jessica Van Sack noted yesterday in the Boston Herald how many are prospecting that HTML5 will spell doom for the app phenomenon. After all, if advanced websites can provide all the functionality of apps and more, well… why bother with an app store? Plus, if the novelty of “wow, look at what this can do” app obsession wears off (as it already has for me), are we going to continue to expect everything but the kitchen sink out of our phones (and continue running into each other in the street because our eyes are glued to them)? Maybe functionality will win out in the end, rather than diversion.
To be realistic, the BBerry is most likely in its twilight years. But its legacy is what’s important. BBerrys proved that phones aren’t just excellent for communicating, they are really excellent for communicating. Angry Birds? Not so excellent for communicating. The iPhone and its ilk aren’t going anywhere; they’re here to stay for a long time. But if the Apple and Anroid app store are looking at death’s door in the near future, the mobile industry may have to rethink what it means to be a phone. Cheers to the BBerry.