The former chief executive of BlackBerry Jim Balsillie has said that BlackBerry’s reputation was dented by the BlackBerry Storm phone, which was a rushed attempt at a touchscreen smartphone to compete with the Apple iPhone.
Balsillie attended at an Empire Club of Canada event in Toronto and told the audience that the company tried to do too much with Storm but fell short. “It was a touch display, a clickable display, it had new applications. It was all done in an incredibly short period of time and it blew up on us” he said. Balsillie quickly left the company in 2012 and has not spoken about BlackBerry in public since. At the Toronto event, he spoke of how the company was removed from its title as leader of the smartphone market, with patents and pressure from Apple as the cause.
The BlackBerry storm was released in 2008 as part of the 9500 series of phones by the company known at that time as Research in Motion. It features a touchscreen that uses SurePress, a technology that was patented by RIM to provide haptic feedback. While the phone did have some good points, it generally received critical reviews as it was prone to bugs, glitches and had no wi-fi support.
Balsillie has said that there were many technical faults with the Storm and, although there were one million handsets sold between the phone’s launch and January 2009, nearly each of the one million phones had to be replaced. This is in turn caused US telecom company Verizon to drop a partnership with BlackBerry due to the number of replacements and they claimed $500 million in losses. He said that it was then that he knew BlackBerry couldn’t compete on “high end hardware”. A book released this year called Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind The Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of The BlackBerry by Jacquie McNish states that the Storm was the biggest disaster in smartphone history.
Balsillie also spoke of his hope that the technology sector in Canada would face new changes and implement a national lobby organisation that will help startups to get more funding and attention. The government and industry need to work together in order to fend off foreign tech competition. Referencing American entrepreneurs such as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, Balsillie cited examples of technology leaders that need the right environment in order to become successful. He said that people such as Zuckerberg are “no smarter than Canadian entrepreneurs, but the government doesn’t support them properly”.
He believes that multinational corporations are taking over and leaving no room for national Canadian tech companies, who’s voices are drowned out without the help of lobbyists. The government could create infrastructure that would help the technology sector and the situation would be better if leaders would recognise how much competition there is. Balsillie went on to say that large technology companies such as Amazon and Google have created new offices in Vancouver, Waterloo and Toronto in order to help attract Canadian talent. These companies are now sending the ideas and work of Canadian tech specialists to their headquarters in other countries.
Even though the former chief executive hasn’t talked about BlackBerry since his departure, he has kept up with the technology and launches of the company. He still uses a BlackBerry Bold, a phone with a full qwerty keyboard that was first launched in 2008 and updated with a touchscreen in 2011. He says that he still loves the phone and it will have to be pried out of his “cold, dead hands”.
It has been predicted by RBC Capital Markets that BlackBerry will sell around 700,000 handsets before the end of the year, just half that of a previous prediction which said the number would reach 1.6 million. In addition, BlackBerry has announced that it will axe a large number of worldwide jobs. The company once employed around 20,000 people around the globe, but the number of employees stands at just 7,000 today. However, the Ontario government, all G7 governments and 16 of the 20 G20 governments use BlackBerry phones for work, so there may still be some hope left for the company yet.