My BlackBerry has reached the end of the road

I bought one of the last of the BlackBerry KeyTwo handsets a few years ago, loyal to the brand long after most people had left the party

Former US President Barack Obama checks his BlackBerry, as he walks into the West Wing of the White House, in Washington, in 2014. Reuters
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When the BlackBerry movie is released in May, it is almost certain to induce a sharp pang of nostalgia among the millions of people who once used the device’s small physical qwerty keyboard to run their digital world. Or, in the case of former US President Barack Obama, once used their BlackBerry to run the western world.

Mr Obama’s handset was reported to have been in such constant use that administration insiders supposedly nicknamed it his “CrackBerry”. In truth, many of us were also hopelessly devoted to these ubiquitous devices in those days.

Hard to believe that back in the late-aughts the iPhone was an arriviste at the gates of what was the kingdom of BlackBerry, or that the Canadian company’s smartphone domain would ever be threatened, let alone overrun.

When London experienced a summer of riots in 2011, the tumult was reported to have been driven by social media, although not by WhatsApp, Twitter or Facebook, but by BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). Remember, this was fully four years after the iPhone’s introduction.

BBM was the instant encrypted messaging service of choice a decade ago, not just for corporate types but for teens, twentysomethings and pretty much everyone else as well. The first strains of tech neck syndrome must surely partially trace their roots to long hours of BlackBerry keyboard use by so many of us in the early years of the new century.

The new film has already attracted warm reviews on the festival circuit for its reportedly witty and irreverent take on BlackBerry’s rise and spectacular fall. If the short trailer is anything to go by it promises to be a wild ride and, one suspects, a zigzagging journey from established fact to reimagined historical events. I will definitely check it out when it hits cinemas here.

Who knows, it may even prompt a few people to wonder whether they could rekindle their relationship with BlackBerry handsets. Not me though, I never left the brand but am about to finally cut the cord after years of devoted BlackBerry use.

Since BlackBerry announced it would move its focus from smartphone production towards software solutions in 2016, the death of BlackBerry phones has been surprisingly slow until last year.

For a number of years phones were still produced under licence as Android-based handsets married with the physical keyboard of old and marinated with some robust BlackBerry security features as well as its Hub+ software, which was a suite of organisational tools that were, whisper it gently, a genuinely elegant solution to managing the noise of the modern world.

I bought one of the last of the line BlackBerry KeyTwo handsets a few years ago, loyal to the brand long after most people had left the party.

I also quite enjoyed the contrarian position of not owning an iPhone

I thought I was buying a retro model reimagined for the modern era, like say, a new Ford Bronco. In hindsight, the decision may have been more like purchasing a classic car without having it thoroughly checked over beforehand.

While colleagues and friends would poke fun at my old tech looking handset, I’d be at pains to explain the KeyTwo represented the best of both worlds with its Android-operating system and its nice to use keyboard. Battery life was really good to start with, too, and the camera was perfectly capable.

Sure, it was slightly wearying to have to constantly fend off “old person” jokes made at my expense or to respond to the “wow, is that a BlackBerry, I didn’t know they still made them” jibes, but I also quite enjoyed the contrarian position of not owning an iPhone. So did the less than a handful of people I knew who also still used BlackBerry devices. We were the informal resistance movement pitted against the omnipresence of more popular brands. Other people were missing out, not us.

In the past year, however, my handset began to exhibit temperamental classic car tendencies rather than the practical reboot I thought I’d bought.

BlackBerry pulled the plug on its Hub+ service last year – in fairness, installing an alternative third-party email service was easy – although Hub still keeps prompting me to update my password for reasons only known to itself; the Android OS is marooned in an old version as the licensed handset producer has stopped manufacturing new phones and doesn’t support further updates; battery life is now sub-optimal, unable it seems to cope with the sheer volume of apps we all need to run our lives. Finally, my keyboard has occasional bouts of typing without prompting. So if you get a message from me any time soon that seems out of character – maybe it makes more sense than my regular messages – then its worth checking if it was sent by me or the machine that occasionally takes control of my phone.

Rumours circulate occasionally that a new licensed BlackBerry is in the works and last week Reuters reported that the company was selling patents “primarily related to its mobile devices”. For me, however, the BlackBerry era is now closing just as moviegoers might get the party started again. The can I’ve been kicking for years has finally reached the end of the road.

Published: March 31, 2023, 5:00 AM