From Brick To Bold: The Evolution Of The BlackBerry

It's been 10 years since Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd. rolled out the first BlackBerry device. In that decade, BlackBerry has become synonymous with mobility and is seen as the gold standard for mobile applications like email and calendaring. Today, BlackBerry is credited with creating some of the most forward thinking, feature packed smart phones out there; a huge transition from the clunky brick-styled devices of yore. Today, you can't ride a train or grab a cup of coffee without seeing someone with their face aglow with the backlight from their BlackBerry screen as they scroll through emails and messages. The addictive nature of the devices has led some users to refer to them as "CrackBerrys" because of the drug-like hold they have on their loyal users.

With the BlackBerry Bold 9000 (pictured), the latest device from Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM, set to hit the market in the U.S. within the next month or so, we thought it'd be fun to look back at the past decade and highlight some of devices -- if they can still be called that -- that BlackBerry has released over the years. While considered cutting edge at the time, a glance back at older BlackBerry devices is comparable to a trip back in a time machine. In the past decade the devices have evolved, shrunk considerably and have become more useful than ever before.

Let's take a trip down BlackBerry memory lane. And before you chuckle at how archaic some of these devices appear, take a look through that junk drawer -- they might still be in there laughing back at you.

Remember the hey-day of ER, the hit NBC hospital drama? It's likely that the doctors on that show kept in contact with the RIM Inter@ctive Pager 950 (pictured). Announced Aug. 26, 1998, the 950 measured 3.5 inches by 2.5 inches by 0.93 inches and weighed in at 3.95 ounces without the battery.

Seen as one of the first official BlackBerry devices, the pager could send and receive messages with guaranteed delivery and no garbling. Users could initiate custom email, faxes, alphanumeric pages and text-to-voice messages. This decade-old bad boy would handle full-length messages of up to 16,000 characters and included a 32-bit Intel 386 processor with 1Mb of flash memory plus 204 Kbytes of SRAM. Inside was a 2W transmitter and high efficiency receiver.

The 950 offered a clear graphic LCD with backlighting, a selectable 8-line or 6-line display, a 31-key PC-style keyboard; a thumb-operated roller wheel that operates similar to a PC mouse; an address book that could store up to 1,000 entries; selectable alerts; and an intuitive menu-driven interface. The 950 opened the door to mobile communications with a powerful messaging application and could run about three weeks on a single AA alkaline battery, depending on usage.

The RIM Inter@ctive Pager 950 used BellSouth Interactive PagingSM Service in the U.S. and carried a price tag of $359.

Announced on April 11, 2000, BlackBerry took a step beyond the pager with the RIM 957 Wireless Handheld (pictured). The first device to take on the now-iconic BlackBerry brick-style form factor, the 957 measured 4.6 inches by 3.1 inches by 0.70 inches and weighed 5.3 ounces.

It was billed by RIM as a "palm-sized wireless handheld with integrated support for wireless email, Internet, paging and organizer features." The device was optimized for mobile users featuring a large, high-quality backlit screen, a 32-bit Intel 386 processor, 5 MB flash memory, an easy-to-use keyboard and an embedded wireless modem.

The 957 featured integrated organizer software and full support for BlackBerry wireless email. It promised access to a user's calendar, address book, task list, memo pad, calculator and alarm. The device also synchronized with a PC using a docking cradle and Intellisync software, which was then owned by Puma Technology. It used the trusty thumb-operated trackwheel for navigation and multiple notification alerts, including tone, vibrate, on-screen or LED indicator. It housed an internal rechargeable Lithium battery, a docking/charging cradle.

The device was part of BlackBerry's "Always On, Always Connected" campaign, meaning it was designed to operate around the clock while remaining connected to the wireless network for notification of and access to incoming email and other functions like paging and stock alerts.

At the time of its release, the RIM 957 Wireless Handheld sold for just under $500.

It's hard to imagine that early BlackBerry models didn't support voice calls, but it took RIM a good four years or so to make a phone a standard feature of BlackBerry devices. The first one to include GSM/GPRS voice connectivity, the BlackBerry 5810 (pictured), was announced on March 4, 2002, giving users who once had to carry two devices -- one for email and calendaring and a cell phone to make calls --- the freedom of just one.

The java-based BlackBerry 5810 packed in a lot of the familiar BlackBerry features of today: voice, wireless email, SMS text messaging, a Web browser, an organizer, a J2ME operating system, BlackBerry Enterprise Service and the BlackBerry Web Client.

Carrying a hefty price tag of $749, the 5810 weighed in at 4.7 ounces and measured 4.6 inches by 3.1 inches by 0.70 inches. It featured RIM's thumb-typing keyboard, a navigation trackwheel and a large screen. Both the keyboard and screen featured backlighting.

On the mobile email side, the 5810 used BlackBerry's "push architecture" to let emails be automatically delivered, allowing users to read, compose, forward, reply, file or delete messages while synchronizing their inbox and folders between the device and their PC. A host of third-party applications were also available to let users view, print and fax email attachments using the handheld. A single integrated address book and inbox, served all email, voice and SMS applications, enabling users to click on an email address, telephone number or URL inside a message to automatically kick off an email, phone call or Web connection.

The 5810 also integrated with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), which supports access to Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino email behind the firewall, offering end-to-end encryption, performance monitoring, security and asset tracking tools.

The BlackBerry 6710, which made its debut on Oct. 17, 2002, really made a splash. Where the 5810, released a few months prior, was the first BlackBerry to incorporate voice, the 6710 took that integration to another level.

The 6710 (pictured), a world band handheld operating on 900/1900 MHz networks in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, hit the market with an integrated speaker/microphone and integrated wireless services like email, phone, Internet and two-way text messaging. It weighed 4.86 ounces and measured 4.73 inches by 3.03 inches by 0.71 inches.

The handheld featured a removable and rechargeable Lithium battery with about four hours of talk time, 10 days of standby time and three to four days of voice/data usage time. It offered 1 MB SRAM and 8 MB of flash, a plug-in SIM card, a backlit keyboard and screen and a headset with an answer/hang-up button. The 6710 also came with a cradle and travel charger for synchronization and recharging.

Another new feature, which made its debut with the 5810, was the BlackBerry Web Client, a Web-based application that let users access multiple existing email accounts, like ISP accounts, from a handheld. The client also gave users who didn't use Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino access to their personal email accounts, or folks who use those corporate email solutions access to both personal and corporate email.

At the time of its release, the BlackBerry 6710 cost $749.

Probably one of the most iconic and easily recognizable BlackBerrys to hit the market was the BlackBerry 6210. Announced on March 17, 2003, the 6210 brought a smaller form-factor to the once brick-like -- or as some have called them "pancake style" -- BlackBerrys that came before it. Distinguishable by its bold blue casing, the 6210 can still be spotted in the wild every so often.

The 6210 (pictured) was billed as offering "a smaller design with a light and comfortable feel, increased memory for greater application and data storage, as well as new support for wireless email synchronization and integrated attachment viewing."

Taking cues from some of its predecessors, the Java-based 6210 delivered email, phone, SMS, browser and organizer applications on one handheld device. It also supported international roaming with World band 900/1900 MHz GSM/GPRS operation.

The "sleek" device measured in a 4.45 inches by 2.91 inches by 0.83 inches and weighed 4.8 ounces. It featured an embedded wireless modem, an internal high performance antenna, a thumb-typing keyboard and navigation trackwheel. The 6210 had 16 MB flash memory plus 2 MB SRAM, a rechargeable/removable lithium battery, USB connectivity, a large screen, integrated speaker and microphone and an intuitive interface. IT also featured a backlit screen and keyboard for anytime reading and typing.

Like the BlackBerrys before it incorporated mobile push email, phone, SMS, browser, organizer, application integration, BES support and BlackBerry Web Client.

Email enhancements introduced with the $299 6210 included cradle-free, two-way wireless synchronization of email messages including support for read/unread status, deletions and filing; integrated attachment viewing with support for several file formats such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, WordPerfect, Adobe PDF and ASCII text; and remote address lookup capabilities that let BlackBerry users wirelessly search their organizations' address lists.

With the advanced displays coming to mobile devices and smart phones early in the 2000s, the BlackBerry 7320 marked RIM's time to join the color display revolution. Making its debut on Aug. 11, 2003, the BlackBerry 7320 (pictured) was the first to wrap in a high-resolution color display, as opposed to the grayscale of BlackBerrys past. The 7320 was also the first BlackBerry handheld to target not only enterprise users, but "prosumers," or folks who use their smart phone for both work and play.

The device, which sold for $399.99 at the time, offered tri-band functionality operating on the 900/1800/1900 MHz GSM/GPRS networks. RIM billed the device as "the perfect solution for simple one number, one email communication for global business travelers," with its ability to make and receive calls in more than 100 countries, along with email and Web roaming.

The handheld, which featured a full QWERTY keyboard, supported both corporate email and ISP emails and included the BlackBerry Web Client. Additionally, the 7320 supported voice, SMS, Web browsing and organizer applications.

The BlackBerry 7320 weighed in at 4.8 ounces and measured 4.5 inches by 2.9 inches by 0.8 inches.

For BlackBerry fans not wanting a device large enough to accommodate a full QWERTY keyboard, the BlackBerry 7100 (pictured) went compact and was also the first to introduce SureType. It was also the cheapest BlackBerry device when it hit the market at a comfortable $199.

The slender 7100 came in at 4.7 inches by 2.3 inches by 0.8 inches and weighed 4.2 ounces. But the compact frame did not mean a sacrifice of functionality. The 7100 packed BlackBerry power into a traditional phone form-factor offering a full-featured phone, instant messaging, HTML Web browsing and organizer capabilities.

Tying in a high-resolution color screen, a numerical phone keypad with large keys, talk time of more than four hours, a speakerphone, Bluetooth support, polyphonic ring tones and quad-band world phone functionality, the 7100 was designed to keep users connected at home or in 135 countries. With its streamlined design, the 7100 also passed the "shirt pocket test," meaning it can be comfortably carried in a breast pocket.

But it was the SureType keyboard technology that set the 7100 apart from the pack. SureType converges a phone keypad and a QWERTY keyboard to eliminate size constraints and fit the keyboard onto a traditional candy bar styled phone. SureType allows for quick typing and dialing in a more compact design and eliminates the traditional multi-tap phone approach that was standard on many mobile phones.

Along with its new packaging, the device kept the functionality that made BlackBerry a mobility staple, supporting BlackBerry Internet Service and connecting to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

As mobile devices evolved beyond just making phone calls and receiving and sending emails, more smart phone users were turning to handhelds for Web browsing. With the introduction of the BlackBerry 8700 (pictured) on Nov. 1, 2005, RIM brought to market its first device to be integrated for use on the high-speed EDGE network for faster Web browsing.

"With the dramatically enhanced device platform and integrated EDGE capabilities, [BlackBerry 8700] users will experience noticeably faster Web browsing, application performance and attachment viewing, the ability to store and run more powerful enterprise, and personal productivity applications; as well as comprehensive, smoothly integrated phone features in a light and compact design," RIM said in a release announcing the 8700.

The 8700 offered 64 MB of flash memory and 16 MB SDRAM. It offered a full QWERTY keyboard and a bright, high-resolution, landscape QVGA (320 by 240) LCD screen with support for more than 65,000 colors and intelligent technology that adjusts both the LCD and keyboard lighting to optimize the view inside, outside and in dark environments. The 8700 also blended high-end phone features like quad-band GPRS/GSM and EDGE network support along with call management features like smart dialing, conference calling, speed dialing and call forwarding. Additionally, it delivered Bluetooth support.

Using the Intel Xscale architecture and the Intel PXA901 cellular processor, codenamed Hermon, enabled the EDGE capabilities.

For corporate users, the 8700 integrated with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server for mobile email and other applications. On the SMB side, it supported BlackBerry Internet Service.

The BlackBerry 8700, which carried a price tag of $299 with a two-year contract, measured 4.3 inches by 2.7 inches by 0.77 inches and weighed 4.7 ounces.

The smallest, most streamlined BlackBerry was introduced to the masses on Sept. 7, 2006 in the form of the BlackBerry 8100, more commonly known as the Pearl. The 3.1 ounce wonder measured a mere 4.2 inches by 1.97 inches by 0.57 inches.

The introduction of the Pearl (pictured) also marked BlackBerry's jump into the world of true multimedia functionality in a handheld device while targeting users looking for a small, smart and stylish handset. The Pearl was the first BlackBerry to include a digital camera, multimedia capabilities and an expandable memory slot.

The quad-band Pearl operated on GSM/GPRS and EDGE networks to offer fast performance. It had 64 MB of flash built in, which could be expanded with a microSD card for more storage for music, pictures, video and data files.

The Pearl also added speaker-independent voice recognition for voice activated dialing and had support for polyphonic, MP3 and MIDI ring tones. Call management features like smart dialing, conference calling, speed dialing and call forwarding were also integrated, along with features like a speakerphone and Bluetooth 2.0.

Using a setup wizard, the push-based BlackBerry let users synchronize access to personal and corporate email accounts with attachment viewing. The Pearl also boasted RIM's SureType typing technology. It is supported by both BlackBerry Internet Service and BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which also included new IT policy controls that let IT departments administer camera and expansion memory settings on corporate devices.

The Pearl also introduced BlackBerry's navigation trackball, which eased vertical and lateral scrolling, with dedicated "menu" and "escape" keys on either side of the track ball for easy navigation on the high-resolution 240 by 260 color display with light-sensing technology.

One key feature of the Pearl 8100 was the 1.3 megapixel camera with built-in flash and 5 times zoom, which let users snap photos and share them through email, MMS or BlackBerry Messenger, while also offering the ability to set photos as caller ID images to be transferred between the device and a PC with a USB cable. The inclusion of BlackBerry Maps was another new capability. Maps delivered step-by-step driving directions.

Lastly, the BlackBerry Pearl 8100, which ran for $199 with a two-year contract, integrated a media player with a stereo headset jack that let users listen to music and watch video in various file formats like MP3, ACC, MPEG4 and H.263.

With the BlackBerry Curve 8300, BlackBerry took a more grown up approach to the Pearl 8100, which was released a few months prior. The Curve took some of the Pearl's same functionality, but tied in a full QWERTY keyboard; making it the smallest and lightest full QWERTY handset in the history of BlackBerry weighing 3.9 ounces and measuring 4.2 inches by 2.4 inches by 0.6 inches.

The Curve (pictured) was also the first to integrate a 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack. Like the Pearl before it, the Curve also included a camera with zoom, bumping it from the Pearl's 1.3 megapixel to 2.0 megapixel with five times zoom.

Introduced May 30, 2007, the Curve also boasted a spell checker for email, an enhanced media player and a new desktop manager. It also offered microSD expandable memory and, like the Pearl, used RIM's trackball navigation system.

The Curve offers an ultrabright 320 by 240 display that supports more than 65,000 and light-sensing technology to adjust backlighting. The premium phone features include noise-cancellation technology, speaker independent voice recognition for voice activated dialing, low-distortion speaker phone and dedicated send, end and mute keys. A media manager application included as part of the Curve's BlackBerry Desktop software, the Roxio Media Manager for BlackBerry, lets users search for media files on their computer, view and organize them; create MP3 files from CDs; add audio tags; create playlists; and copy or convert pictures, music and videos for playback on the handset.

And, as with most models, the BlackBerry Curve 8300 is supported by BlackBerry Internet Service support for personal and corporate email accounts, and BlackBerry Enterprise Server for enterprise deployments with IBM Lotus Domino, Microsoft Windows Exchange and Novell GroupWise.

The Curve was released at a price point of $199 with a two-year contract.

Probably the most coveted of all BlackBerry models, the BlackBerry Bold 9000 was announced with a great deal of fanfare on May 12, 2008. While it likely won't be available in the United States until October, the Bold has already received high praise and rave reviews and has been officially released in some international locations, such as Australia, Canada and Malaysia.

Billed as the BlackBerry the salivating smart phone buying market has been waiting for, the BlackBerry Bold 9000 is the first BlackBerry device to support high-speed HSDPA, or 3G, networks. It also ties in built-in Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g) networks and GPS; features a 624 MHz mobile processor; and includes 128 MB flash memory, 1 GB on board memory, and an external microSD/SDHC card slot.

The Bold features a half VGA 480 by 320 high-resolution display, an enhanced HTML Web browser and advanced multimedia capabilities. The enhanced display also helps the device mimic the desktop when it comes to viewing Web pages. A trackball can be used as a mouse making for easier navigation, which includes "Page View" or "Column View." Users can also zoom in on specific parts of a Web page and emulation settings let users pick whether they want to view sites in full desktop-style HTML and layout or in the mobile version. Attachments can also be downloaded from within the browser and streaming video is supported through real-time streaming protocol (RTSP).

The Bold also comes standard with BlackBerry applications like phone, email, messaging, organizer and browser and works with a host of third-party mobile business and lifestyle applications. Users can also download many commonly used files, such as Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint and edit them on the handset using a pre-loaded DataViz Documents to Go suite.

The BlackBerry Bold integrates with BlackBerry Enterprise Server for security and IT administration within several email environments like IBM Lotus Domino, Microsoft Exchange and Novel GroupWise. The device can also work with BlackBerry Professional Software for SMBs BlackBerry Internet Service and BlackBerry Unite software for SOHO and home users.

The Bold offers a two-megapixel camera with video, flash and five times digital zoom. The media player displays pictures and slideshows, plays movies in full screen mode and manages music collections.

The BlackBerry Desktop Manger software also includes Roxio Media Manager for BlackBerry and Roxio Photosuite 9 LE, tools that let users manage music and video and enhance pictures and create photo albums. The new BlackBerry Media Sync applications lets users integrate their Apple iTunes digital music with the Bold and support for High Speed USB 2.0 enables the transferring of files from the desktop to the Bold.

It also comes with several of BlackBerry's premium phone features like Speaker Independent Voice Recognition for Voice Activated Dialing (VAD) and Bluetooth 2.0 support. It also features dedicated send, end and mute keys; smart dialing; speed dialing; conference calling; call forwarding.; noise cancellation technology that offsets background noise; speaker phone; and support for polyphonic, mp3 and MIDI ring tones.

The pricing for the BlackBerry Bold 9000, which weighs 4.8 ounces and measures 4.48 inches by 2.6 inches by 0.59 inches, has not yet been announced in the U.S.