Dear Blackberry, you were more than just a phone

Technology

Dear Blackberry, you were more than just a phone

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

If you were to look around today’s smartphone-obsessed world, with bezel-less displays and wide-angle lens cameras, it may be hard for you to believe that just about a decade ago, there was a phone which even without a touch-screen or a front camera, took the entire smartphone market by storm. Yes, I am talking about the BlackBerry or BBs as they were called and which, as of January 2022, have ceased to exist. The first decade of the 2000s was a simpler time. A phone that looked different, had some oddly provincial features translated into social currency of sorts. More so, it’s what the phone enabled, in the case of the Blackberry, that made it special – a private place to chat, and most importantly, a pin that was also, perhaps the first version ever of the “swipe right”.

The first decade of the 2000s was a simpler time. A phone that looked different, had some oddly provincial features translated into social currency of sorts.

Up until 2010, I had never given a second thought to handsets. All of my previous phones had been hand-me-downs and I was happy to use them, but here was something truly revolutionary. At the time, the cheapest model of a BlackBerry cost around Rs 14000, and it took me a year of saving up from my first-job salary to be able to afford one. I still remember grinning from ear to ear when I got it home. My first big purchase, from my own money, for my own use! It’s true what they say- all firsts are special.

Having positioned itself as a work phone that allowed you to access your email on the go, the Blackberry became much more than that. Sure, you could access your Gmail or Hotmail account on a browser on any phone, but it was hardly secure and typing long emails on a typical phone keypad– the 3×4 keys- was torture. I remember bringing my brand new BlackBerry to office and handing it over to the IT guys to set up my work email on it – they looked excited too. Typing important and urgent emails on those tiny keypad buttons with their peculiar clickety-clack sound made me feel important and at par with the suit-clad demographic it was initially made for. It sounds a bit vain, but most gadgets symbolise an aspect of you, one way or the other.

Typing important and urgent emails on those tiny keypad buttons with their peculiar clickety-clack sound made me feel important and at par with the suit-clad demographic it was initially made for.

All that said, the definitive reason for me to buy the phone was BBM. Let me put this in context for you. I am from a generation that grew up asking A/S/L? on Yahoo messenger, so instant messaging in itself wasn’t a new thing, but it was only available on desktops and laptops. BBM was the first IM that was available on your phone and it changed ‘texting’ forever. I was a small-town girl in the big city, experiencing financial freedom and adapting to the social environment of a metropolis. BBM, to me, was the exclusive club where all the cool people went to hang out and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun. Unlike Whatsapp, where anyone who has your number can text you, BBM gave you a notional sense of consent and agency when it came to who you chose to chat with. It’s obviously a lot more important to women.

Yet, something happened between 2009 (when BlackBerry accounted for almost half of the US smartphone market) and 2014 (when its market share in the US became less than 1%)

It was sort of a dating app before dating apps were even thought of! Because sharing your BB pin with someone was akin to ‘swiping right’ on someone’s profile. And exchanging BB pins meant that it was a ‘match’! Many a love story started (and sustained) on BBM chats and for people like me, who were coming into our own at the time and yet were recluses, it gave us just the right platform to work, socialise, network and shine. We would change our DPs almost every day, change our statuses to cringe-worthy quotes, exchange pins with our crushes and flirt with them till kingdom come. Oh and a special shout out here to the BBM emojis, NO ONE has managed to replicate the emojis that it had and to a generation still learning the ropes of social identities, it offered a safe, almost warm landscape.

But all these years later, I miss the phone that symbolised some of my most productive, most constructive and carefree days of my life.

Yet, something happened between 2009 (when BlackBerry accounted for almost half of the US smartphone market) and 2014 (when its market share in the US became less than 1%) that sealed the device’s fate. Adam Grant, in his book, ‘Think Again’, believes that it was BlackBerry’s inventor, Mike Lazardis’ inability to adapt to changing demands. Mike thought it was ridiculous to think that people would want to tap on glass rather than use an actual keypad. A fatal mistake in an ever-changing industry.

But all these years later, and even after using an android phone for the past five years, I do miss typing on a physical keypad. And I miss the little red dot that told you had unread emails or BBM messages. And most of all I miss the phone that symbolised some of my most productive, most constructive and carefree days of my life. It’s the reason I’m going to hold onto my set as a keepsake, for the times when we, grew up together.

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