BlackBerry: The Rise And Fall Of An Innovator2:00 PM EST Wed. Sep. 25, 2013
Research In Motion (RIM), the foundation for BlackBerry, was co-founded in 1984 by Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin in Waterloo, Ontario. John Balsillie joined them in 1992 as co-CEO. The company made its mark by developing email and paging technology to be delivered over the Mobitex wireless data network. RIM was added to the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1997, having raised more than $115 million from investors.
On Jan. 19, RIM announced BlackBerry: the first mobile, secure wireless email solution using Microsoft Exchange. The "push" model of delivery dealt with the common mobile complaints of waiting for other devices to dial in to servers. The software connected with the RIM Inter@ctive Pagers, including the 850 that was announced later that year with 2 MB of memory and a QWERTY keyboard that ran on an AA battery. Keep in mind, however, that mobile email devices at this point were separate from cell phones.
After a year of incredible success, RIM listed on the Nasdaq for an IPO of more than $145 million.
The BlackBerry 5810 integrated the popular BlackBerry email solution into a phone with messaging, calendar and other business features. It was the first of its kind with GSM/GRPS capabilities. However, despite the ability to make phone calls, it did not yet include a microphone so all calls had to be made through an external headset. For a hefty $749 price tag, users could cut down from two devices, an email device and a cell phone, to just one device -- a revolution at the time.
After a sleeker redesign earlier in 2003 with the less brick-like blue BlackBerry 6210, BlackBerry made another jump forward in August 2003 with the introduction of the BlackBerry 7230 with color display. Selling for $399.99, the phone was the first aimed at not only enterprise customers but also consumers looking to combine their devices for work and play. It was not the first color device on the market, having come years after the Palm IIIc.
Although the first iPhone caused some doubts about the continued viability of BlackBerry, the real hit came after Apple released its 3G model in June 2008. Between June 19, just over a week after the iPhone 3G was released, and the end of the year, BlackBerry stock dropped 73 percent, from $147.55 to $40.58. Google Android was also released in October 2008, adding to the competition pool.
Following on the popularity of the iPhone and Android-based phones, RIM announced the BlackBerry Storm in fall 2008, the company's first touch device with a clickable screen designed to address the touch phone typing issues with other devices. The same year, RIM launched the BlackBerry Bold, which was the company's first device to connect to 3G networks, and it featured a sleek design with 1 GB of memory and an external microSD card slot. The phone came out to rave reviews.
After Apple released its iPad in 2010, RIM tried to follow suit with the PlayBook. The original version of the PlayBook was criticized for lacking native email capabilities and a unified work and personal inbox. Sales of the tablet continued to lag behind expectations, and RIM halted production of the 16-GB version in June 2012.
As questions flew around a quickly sinking RIM, the company named former co-COO Thorsten Heins as the new President and CEO. Heins promised to overhaul the company and said he was confident in reviving the RIM's competitiveness as Apple and Google continued to chip away at BlackBerry's enterprise clients.
"As with any company that has grown as fast as we have, there have been inevitable growing pains," the new CEO said in a statement at the time. "We have learned from those challenges and, I believe, we have and will become a stronger company as a result."
In early 2013, RIM launched the BlackBerry 10 operating system that enhanced applications, enabled multitasking and created separate profiles for work and personal use. Developer outreach was important with the launch, leading to over 70,000 usable applications.
At the same event, RIM officially announced it was changing its name to BlackBerry to consolidate its identity around its most popular brand.
BlackBerry's stock plunged more than 25 percent after it reported its first-quarter fiscal 2014 results to the tune of $84 million in loses after the company only shipped 2.7 million new BlackBerry phones, despite the BlackBerry 10 rollout earlier in the year.
CEO Thorsten Heins tried to play the loss off as an investment in innovation and product rollout, but BlackBerry remained firmly behind Apple, Google and Microsoft in market share.
In August, BlackBerry announced that it was looking for "strategic alternatives" as it continued to struggle. It formed a "special committee" to look into the viability of joint ventures, strategic partnerships, alliances or a possible sale. As part of the announcement, the largest shareholder, Fairfax Financial, announced its CEO would be stepping down from the board of directors because of a possible conflict of interest. Fairfax would later put an offer on the table for ownership of the company.
BlackBerry took another earnings hit on Friday as the company announced its preliminary earnings report showing close to $1 billion in losses for the quarter and announcing that it intended to lay off 4,500 employees, approximately a third of its staff.
The company went on to recall the launch of its BlackBerry Messenger app rollout for Apple and Android after it was leaked over the weekend.
BlackBerry announced Monday that its board of directors had accepted a letter of intent from a consortium led by its largest shareholder, Fairfax Financial Holdings, to take the ailing smartphone company private as part of a $4.7 billion deal. BlackBerry has the option to accept additional offers until November 4.