TORONTO – BlackBerry addicts are notoriously loyal, but even they will have a hard time sticking by their beloved device now that BlackBerry Ltd. is outsourcing production, say observers who admit to being diehard users themselves.
News that the Waterloo, Ont.-based company will stop making their own smartphones represented another nail in the coffin for the so-called CrackBerry, at least for enthusiasts who pride themselves on backing the homegrown product in the face of an iPhone revolution.
Toronto devotee Alex Davis feared that “outsourcing the heck out of it” would result in poor quality, but mostly complained about losing the ability to call it a Canadian phone. He stuck with BlackBerry even as friends and family picked up slicker, more versatile rivals from Apple and Samsung.
“I always felt like I’m going down with the ship. It’s like ‘Titanic,'” joked Davis, who runs The Repair Store, which specializes in servicing the BlackBerry. “I have a lot of customers who come in and they go: ‘I’m going down with the ship! I’m Canadian, I’m sticking with them and I don’t care if they go broke, it’s a Canadian product.'”
Tech analyst Carmi Levy called the shift to third-party manufacturers “the end of an era” for the device, considering its Canuck roots one of its biggest selling points.
“Now it removes the last thing that differentiated BlackBerry devices from other devices — it’s Canadianness,” said Levy, a CTV technology analyst based in London, Ont., who uses a BlackBerry Priv.
Still, he admitted that Team BlackBerry is alive and well, despite a prolonged tailspin that began with the iPhone’s debut.
“They’re a breed apart from any other smartphone user,” said Levy. “They love their phone at a level that not even the most ardent Apple fan can reach.
“It isn’t so much a statement about their style, which is what an iPhone is, it’s a statement about who they are and how they stand apart from the crowd. It’s a culture more than anything else and even after the company’s downfall, they don’t want to give that up. And for good reason — there aren’t that many Canadian icons to begin with.”
Levy credits the BlackBerry with igniting our modern-day obsession with mobile devices, noting they were the first to really become a ubiquitous accessory that demanded constant attention.
“Before BlackBerry came along, all we had were (cellphones),” said Levy.
“It didn’t bother us if we left them on the other side of the house, no one gave these phones a second thought. You replaced them every few years when a newer, better one came along but it really wasn’t an object of affection or desire…. We tend to think of the iPhone as a generator of mania, but really it was the BlackBerry that started it and if we owe a debt of gratitude to any one company for sealing the smartphone within our brain it is BlackBerry.”
BlackBerry aficionado Chris Parsons agrees, noting that the device has become an integral part of our personal and collective culture, and shaped a mobile etiquette that we take for granted today.
The Halifax tech guru, who runs the website CrackBerry.com, pointed to the phone’s flashing red light, which alerted users to a waiting message but also served as digital proof of productivity, or popularity.
“There’s the concept of the red blinking light that created the sense of urgency,” Parsons said of the feature, reminiscent of the old-school landline answering machine.
“BlackBerry basically gave people the power to be able to go ahead and get excited over phones.”
Davis credits teenagers with being the first hardcore adopters, since BlackBerry’s messaging program BBM was free in an age when you had to pay for a text message.
The core user eventually became businessmen, real estate agents and lawyers — working professionals enamoured with the clickety-clack of a manual keyboard and hooked on the ability to send and receive immediate emails that could make or break a deal.
“IPhone (was like) as a toy to most people. They look and they say, ‘Yeah my daughter has one.’ ‘My son has one’,” said Davis, who swears by his BlackBerry Q10.
“A pragmatic user is not interested in sending selfies. It’s just not us. It’s not the crowd who has a BlackBerry.”
U.S. President Barack Obama and social media queen Kim Kardashian are among its most famous devotees because of BlackBerry’s top security features, although both have admitted to moving on to rival devices.
Kardashian’s effusive devotion was tempered by the fact she also owned an iPhone, her device of choice for the social media exploits that keep her in the limelight.
The implicit suggestion is that Kardashian’s BlackBerry was for boring work stuff, said Parsons.
“There’s definitely stigma around the brand itself that probably never is going to leave them unfortunately,” he said.
And at this point, BlackBerry can’t even ride an “underdog” wave that it enjoyed for a short time while the world went Apple crazy, said Levy.
“That retro/nostalgic cool that Blackberry has enjoyed for a while has been eroding over the past year or so since it made its initial move into the Android market,” he said. “And now that it’s announced that other companies are going to be building its phones for it, the very things that made BlackBerry cool will no longer exist.”