After Tuesday, many antique BlackBerry phones will stop working properly as the firm ends support for its operating system and related services. It signals the end of a long-serving workhorse for journalist Bill Wilson.
Over the last decade, and especially in the last five or six years, the question “Is that a Blackberry, I didn’t realize they were still going?” has sparked many a conversation.
Strangers have stared strangely at my Q10 phone with its characteristic qwerty keypad everywhere from airport security to bars and restaurants, and even in hospital intensive care.
But I’d have to add to my standard response of “sure, they’re still going” that “but not their old phones.”
Since its launch in 2013, that model, as well as BlackBerry’s subsequent phones, have faced an increasingly difficult battle as Apple and Samsung fought for worldwide smartphone dominance.
BlackBerrys were a common sight on commuter trains, trams, and airlines across the UK in the late 2000s and early 2010s, as business professionals browsed through their emails and tap-tapped away their responses.
But now, following numerous rumors of BlackBerry’s operating system’s collapse, it’s truly the end of the road.
Because on January 4th, the Canadian corporation, which is now a cyber-security software specialist, will stop supporting BlackBerry OS.
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BlackBerry praised “our many loyal customers and partners throughout the years” in announcing the closure.
BlackBerry phones rely on crucial services offered by the firm, not just the device itself, for many functions, and these are being phased out with the removal of support.
“Devices running these legacy services and software through either carrier or wi-fi connections, including for data, phone calls, SMS, and 9-1-1 functions, will no longer reliably function,” the company warned.
All handsets running BlackBerry 7.1 OS or older, BlackBerry 10 OS, including the tablet-based BlackBerry PlayBook OS are affected.
Phones like my old Q10 will be affected, although they may still be useful as a backup for contact numbers.
However, because they run the Android operating system, post-2016 Blackberry-branded phones built under license by Chinese manufacturer TCL are unaffected.
Not only have the number of Blackberry phone users decreased over time but support and functions have also decreased.
Many apps, including BBC iPlayer and WhatsApp, have been removed from BlackBerry OS handsets, while YouTube has recently stopped operating.
I was able to get the later two to work again in a roundabout way by downloading links from the remote reaches of the globe.
For BlackBerry users, apps have become a non-existent feature.
For example, when the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, I was unable to download the various NHS apps and had to manually check in to locations.
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- TCL, a phone manufacturer, has ended its relationship with BlackBerry.
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So, what’s the point of going through all this trouble?
In summary, with five or six distinct addresses all in one stream, it’s still ideal for emails. I also enjoy the qwerty keyboard, which has keys that depress rather than feel like a hard plank of wood when pressed.
Despite the fact that phones have become ever larger, the BlackBerry still fits comfortably and softly in the hand.
Ben Wood, an industry analyst with CCS Insight and the founder of the Mobile Phone Museum, shares this sentiment.
He describes the dedicated qwerty keyboard as “an iconic design.” “The gadgets grew so familiar in people’s hands that muscle memory evolved, allowing them to provide fast and accurate text input.”
“It always makes me grin when I show them some of the old mobile phones,” Mr. Wood says.
“They’re intrigued by the variety of design.” ‘Why don’t they bring keyboards back?’ a 14-year-old asked me the other day. “It made me happy.”
BlackBerry introduced the 850 phones almost precisely 23 years ago, and the business quickly became the leader in offering email while on the go.
BBM – BlackBerry’s Instant Messenger service – was also appealing, despite the fact that it gained undesired attention during the 2011 riots that swept through numerous UK cities.
The fact that the police couldn’t monitor the encrypted nature of BBM chats to figure out where looters would strike next sparked heated howls of protest.
However, Apple and Android phones would pose a growing threat to the devices that followed the famous BlackBerry Bold.
So, what happens after that?
TCL‘s license expired in 2020, and it was taken over by Onward Mobility. It promised a 5G BlackBerry with Android in 2021, but no such device has been shown.
For the time being, I’ll make do with a second-hand Android Blackberry KeyOne – now five years old – that I got long ago in anticipation of just such a day (this time from Canadian eBay).
And I’ll keep my Q10, too, because you never know when someone could inquire, “Is that an antique BlackBerry?”