In this 2006 photo, Jim Balsillie, left, then the RIM co-chief executive, and Mike Lazaridis, the company’s founder use their BlackBerry devices. JP Moczulski / Reuters
In this 2006 photo, Jim Balsillie, left, then the RIM co-chief executive, and Mike Lazaridis, the company’s founder use their BlackBerry devices. JP Moczulski / Reuters

How wounded BlackBerry and BBM failed to move with the times - exclusive book extract



In this exclusive second-part excerpt from the newly released book Losing the Signal: the Untold Story behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, the company faces competition to its game-changing BBM service.

BBM’s success was bound to spark competition, and in 2009 and 2010, a rash of rival mobile instant messaging services began appearing around the world, including WhatsApp, Line, WeChat, and KakaoTalk. Unlike BBM, they worked across multiple platforms other than BlackBerrys and drew millions of new users each month.

The one that irked RIM the most was Kik Messenger. Kik was hatched by a University of Waterloo engineering and mechatronics student named Ted Livingston who had completed three internships at RIM, including time on BBM. In 2009 Mr Livingston decided to forgo his fourth year to develop his fledgling start-up. His initial plan was to develop a music-sharing service that worked with BBM, but after several months he decided to instead create a BBM-like chat application that worked on all smartphones.

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The BBM saga

The rise of BBM before BlackBerry lost the smartphone race - read the first part here

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Mr Livingston approached his former superiors in early 2010 and encouraged RIM to broaden BBM to work on non-BlackBerry devices. With its head start in mobile instant messaging, he believed RIM could crush any rivals if BBM was available on all platforms. He even told RIM in March 2010 he would stop developing Kik if BBM went “cross-platform”.

But the company was not interested. “They absolutely refused and they said, ‘No, we won’t do that’,” Mr Livingston said in a 2013 interview. “To be fair, from their perspective, it was hard. They said, ‘People are buying BlackBerrys for BBM’. That was a real risk”.

Mr Livingston launched Kik Messenger in April 2010 and claimed in court documents he told RIM of his plans. He was even invited to speak at a BlackBerry developer conference that September. But relations changed after he relaunched Kik in October. After 15 days, Kik had signed up 1 million users. At that point, Kik alleged in court documents, senior RIM executives “embark[ed] on a campaign to destroy or seriously harm Kik”. RIM terminated its agreements with Kik, removed Kik from its app store, and sued Kik for infringing on its intellectual property.

Mr Livingston asked one of his investors to intervene – Jim Estill, RIM’s longest-standing outside director. Mr Estill responded by pressing Don Morrison, the chief operating officer, to meet Mr Livingston. According to a December 2010 memo from RIM’s law firm Bennett Jones to the board’s audit and risk management committee, Mr Estill did not disclose his personal interest in RIM’s newest rival to Morrison or the board. The relationship raised a potential conflict of interest, the legal memo warned.

Mr Estill resigned shortly after the conflict issue was raised. He concedes his involvement with Kik put him in potential conflict with his position as a RIM director. “I thought I disclosed it from the start, but I could be mistaken,” he says. “That’s why you resign, you do the right thing.”

The spat with Kik was a warning shot in a larger battle that would play out within RIM over the next year, opening the greatest rift within the wounded company. As it lost its lead in the smartphone race, some RIM executives realised that if they did nothing, BBM would be surpassed by more open mobile chat services. An internal debate over how best to capitalise on BBM’s success as smartphone sales began to falter would open fault lines in the company at its darkest hour.

It was a long night from which the company is still struggling to emerge as it searches for its place in a world it used to rule.

From Losing the Signal: the Untold Story behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff

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England-South Africa Test series

1st Test England win by 211 runs at Lord's, London

2nd Test South Africa win by 340 runs at Trent Bridge, Nottingham

3rd Test July 27-31 at The Oval, London

4th Test August 4-8 at Old Trafford, Manchester

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

Read part four: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE

 

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

Quick facts
  • Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (SL) offers free guided tours of art in the metro and at the stations
  • The tours are free of charge; all you need is a valid SL ticket, for which a single journey (valid for 75 minutes) costs 39 Swedish krone ($3.75)
  • Travel cards for unlimited journeys are priced at 165 Swedish krone for 24 hours
  • Avoid rush hour – between 9.30 am and 4.30 pm – to explore the artwork at leisure
COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

Abu Dhabi GP schedule

Friday: First practice - 1pm; Second practice - 5pm

Saturday: Final practice - 2pm; Qualifying - 5pm

Sunday: Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (55 laps) - 5.10pm

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

Results:

5pm: Abu Dhabi Fillies Classic (PA) Prestige Dh 110,000 1.400m | Winner: AF Mouthirah, Tadhg O’Shea (jockey), Ernst Oertel (trainer)

5.30pm: Abu Dhabi Colts Classic (PA) Prestige Dh 110,000 1,400m | Winner: AF Saab, Antonio Fresu, Ernst Oertel

6pm: Maiden (PA) Dh 80,000 1,600m | Winner: Majd Al Gharbia, Saif Al Balushi, Ridha ben Attia

6.30pm: Abu Dhabi Championship (PA) Listed Dh 180,000 1,600m | Winner: RB Money To Burn, Pat Cosgrave, Eric Lemartinel

7pm: Wathba Stallions Cup (PA) Handicap Dh 70,000 2,200m | Winner: AF Kafu, Tadhg O’Shea, Ernst Oertel

7.30pm: Handicap (PA) Dh 100,000 2,400m | Winner: Brass Ring, Fabrice Veron, Ismail Mohammed

Company profile

Name: Pyppl

Established: 2017

Founders: Antti Arponen and Phil Reynolds

Based: UAE

Sector: financial services

Investment: $18.5 million

Employees: 150

Funding stage: series A, closed in 2021

Investors: venture capital companies, international funds, family offices, high-net-worth individuals

The Year Earth Changed

Directed by:Tom Beard

Narrated by: Sir David Attenborough

Stars: 4

HEY MERCEDES, WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR ME?

Mercedes-Benz's MBUX digital voice assistant, Hey Mercedes, allows users to set up commands for:

• Navigation

• Calls

• In-car climate

• Ambient lighting

• Media controls

• Driver assistance

• General inquiries such as motor data, fuel consumption and next service schedule, and even funny questions

There's also a hidden feature: pressing and holding the voice command button on the steering wheel activates the voice assistant on a connected smartphone – Siri on Apple's iOS or Google Assistant on Android – enabling a user to command the car even without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

Bangladesh tour of Pakistan

January 24 – First T20, Lahore

January 25 – Second T20, Lahore

January 27 – Third T20, Lahore

February 7-11 – First Test, Rawalpindi

April 3 – One-off ODI, Karachi

April 5-9 – Second Test, Karachi