Arab world mourns demise of BlackBerry, now consigned to tech history’s scrap heap

Special A man walks past a sign advertising the BlackBerry mobile phone at a shopping mall in Dubai on August 1, 2010. (AFP/File Photo)
A man walks past a sign advertising the BlackBerry mobile phone at a shopping mall in Dubai on August 1, 2010. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 07 January 2022

Arab world mourns demise of BlackBerry, now consigned to tech history’s scrap heap

A man walks past a sign advertising the BlackBerry mobile phone at a shopping mall in Dubai on August 1, 2010. (AFP/File Photo)
  • BlackBerry finally gave up the ghost in December, announcing that support for its legacy products was at an end
  • It was the launch of the touchscreen Apple iPhone in 2007 that ended the BlackBerry’s brief but glorious reign

LONDON: It was the world’s first smartphone. Now, barely two decades after it revolutionized the way humans communicated, Arabs have joined the rest of the world to bid a fond farewell to BlackBerry as the firm switches off life support for its classic, pre-Android ground-breaker — once the must-have device for go-getters everywhere.

The story of the rise and inevitable fall of the BlackBerry is a parable for our fast-moving, rapidly evolving technological age. Keeping pace with innovations that come and go faster than the seasons is a challenge for consumers and manufacturers alike.

“First-mover advantage,” or the benefit of being first to the market with a new category of product, used to give pioneering technology companies a decisive head start over the competition, but no more.

In its day, for example, the Canadian firm BlackBerry seemed to have carved out an unassailable niche for itself — yet within a few years had been overtaken by the myriad smartphone rivals that followed in its pioneering wake, constantly adapting and improving upon its revolutionary concept.




A Saudi Arabian man checks his BlackBerry at a store in Jeddah in August 2010. (AFP/File Photo)

BlackBerry had itself been such a giant killer. One of its first products, launched in 1999, rendered the one-way pager redundant overnight, through the simple but inspired innovation of allowing users to reply to the messages they received.

The feature was introduced in a device called the RIM 850. RIM stood for Research in Motion, the name of the company behind the BlackBerry until 2013, when it finally adopted the name of its best-known product. The RIM 850 also featured an early version of the distinctive Blackberry QWERTY keyboard.

The BlackBerry brand was introduced soon after. The name was not, as some believe, a clever riposte to the Apple brand. Rather, some bright spark at a marketing firm suggested it on the basis that the device’s unique keyboard resembled the surface of a blackberry.

Holding the device in two hands and using only their thumbs to type, users quickly became adept at rapidly tapping out emails and messages on the tiny keys. For many, the BlackBerry became an addiction; not for nothing was the device nicknamed CrackBerry. Doctors began to identify cases of “BlackBerry thumb,” a form of tendonitis caused by the constant use of the least dexterous part of the hand in a way that nature never intended.

The big breakthrough for the brand came in 2003 with the launch of the BlackBerry 7230, the world’s first true smartphone. On a device no bigger than a Wall Street wallet, users could make calls, send and receive text messages and emails, and surf the internet.

It was an instant hit and, for a few years, an iconic status symbol. For a time, the BlackBerry was omnipresent in the well-manicured hands of high-profile users such as Kim Kardashian, Sarah Jessica Parker and Barack Obama.

It was not to last, however. The launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007, and in particular its touchscreen, marked the end of the brief but glorious reign of the BlackBerry. For a while, arguments continued to rage between tech commentators about which device was best — but consumers settled the debate by voting with their credit cards.

Confronted by Apple’s slick touchscreen technology, the once-innovative BlackBerry keyboard suddenly seemed like a waste of precious screen space — something that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was quick to point out.




Arabs join the rest of the world to bid a fond farewell to BlackBerry as the firm switches off life support for its classic, pre-Android ground-breaker. (AFP/File Photo)

BlackBerry responded by doing what many technology innovators do — it turned its nose up at the upstart new kid on the block, having failed to learn the painful lessons provided by similar experiences of the likes of IBM and Xerox.

When BlackBerry was put up for sale in 2013, Time magazine concluded that the company had “failed to realize that smartphones would evolve beyond mere communication devices to become full-fledged mobile entertainment hubs.”

By the time BlackBerry woke up to this reality and scrambled to update its suddenly clunky products, they had been swept aside by the relentless stream of new products from Apple, which released a new and improved iPhone every year.

In 2008, BlackBerry was worth $80 billion. Five years later, its market value had plummeted to little more than $4.3 billion. Its market share in the US collapsed from 70 percent to a mere 5 percent.

On Dec. 22, 2021, the company finally gave up the ghost and announced support for its legacy products was at an end.

In fact, BlackBerry had already moved on from phones, reinventing itself in 2016 as a business “providing intelligent security software and services to enterprises and governments around the world.”

Spectacular although the demise of BlackBerry’s smartphone business undoubtedly was, there is nothing unique about the firework-like trajectory of its rise and fall. Like so many other technologies, before and since, it was simply overtaken by others that did the same job, better.

Fax machines, Polaroid instant cameras, video cassette recorders, pagers, the Sony Walkman and CDs — the unique selling points of all these devices were replicated, improved upon and now have been subsumed into the convergence of the multiple technologies found within modern smartphones.

Each one of these now obsolete technologies continue to hold a place in the hearts of millions of people as milestones on their journeys through life. But taken together, they also mark the course of the rapid and remarkable evolution of human ingenuity and technology — and, perhaps, offer some valuable lessons that will inspire the hi-tech pioneers of tomorrow.

In reality, most of these technologies that seemed so revolutionary at the time they emerged were merely evolutionary. The fax replaced the telegram. Videotape replaced film. CDs replaced vinyl and cassette tapes. And so the list goes on.

As technology guru Joseph Awe once put it: “If you can buy it, it’s already obsolete.”




For a time, the BlackBerry was omnipresent in the well-manicured hands of high-profile users such as Barack Obama and Kim Kardashian. (AFP/File Photos)

The trick for a successful manufacturer is to make its own products obsolete by updating them itself, rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

Even as consumers scrambled to get their hands on Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro Max, launched in September last year, Apple already had a note in the diary about the launch of the next iteration of its world-beater later this year.

If the industry rumor mill is anything to go by, however, there is unlikely to be anything earth-shaking about the iPhone 14, just more tinkering around the edges. Nevertheless, doubtless we will snap it up.

In the 14 years since the iPhone debuted, there have been no fewer than 33 versions of the device. And the more we want one, the more we are prepared to pay for one. The first iPhone cost $499; the iPhone 13 Pro Max starts at $1,000.

It is hard to see where the smartphone can possibly go from here, beyond the endless incremental upgrades to screens, memory and cameras. What, then, will be the next big thing in technology?

Right now, some of the most exciting developments are taking place in the fields of artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, voice technology, cloud computing and the internet of things.




Jim Balsillie, co-chief executive officer of Reasearch In Motion (RIM) - poses with a huge replica of a Blackberry Bold phone during the launch in Mumbai on September 18, 2008. (AFP/File Photo)

Follow the money trail left by the smartphone and it seems a fair bet that another grand convergence is approaching fast somewhere down the track. Implants, anyone?

If you think Alexa and your Ring video doorbell are smart, wait until all your possessions, physical and digital, are seamlessly connected via the cloud — and, crucially, enabled with personal agency.

Amazon’s reportedly imminent smart fridge, which will order groceries for you when they start to run low, is just the start of the cool things to come.

And you did not really think that Google has given up on its Glass smart spectacles, with their heads-up display, did you? Since the device flopped with consumers in 2015 the company has been quietly developing the technology, which is now in proven use in a variety of industries.

Will any of this change the world or our lives for the better, as technology companies like to suggest? Probably not. What it will do is give data-hoovering corporations everywhere the ability to stare ever more directly and deeply into our souls, and sell us all those things we never even knew we needed.




In 2008, BlackBerry was worth $80 billion. Five years later, its market value had plummeted to little more than $4.3 billion. (AFP/File Photo)

Today, most of us seem happy with that deal — content to sign off on all those boring terms and conditions that absolutely nobody bothers to read reads in their rush to get their hands on the latest must-have innovation.

And, to be fair, the human race has been “must-having” since the dawn of time.

One of the oldest technologies is the hand ax, a crude stone tool developed between 1.6 and 2 million years ago. This technological breakthrough was arguably the most important ever made, for the simple reason that it began to make possible all the smart stuff we have produced since then.

With an ax, our ancestors could chop branches from trees, making it easier and quicker to build permanent shelters. This was a precursor to the development of settled societies and, ultimately, the first cities, the development of agriculture and the domestication of animals.

Most importantly, perhaps, it also allowed early humans to easily extract marrow from the bones of large animals, introducing a nutrition-rich diet that over time helped them develop more powerful brains — brains that would, ultimately, create the BlackBerry.

The forgotten Arabs of Iran
A century ago, the autonomous sheikhdom of Arabistan was absorbed by force into the Persian state. Today the Arabs of Ahwaz are Iran's most persecuted minority

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Iran denies security forces killed 16-year-old, says she fell off roof-Iranian media

Iran denies security forces killed 16-year-old, says she fell off roof-Iranian media
Updated 8 sec ago

Iran denies security forces killed 16-year-old, says she fell off roof-Iranian media

Iran denies security forces killed 16-year-old, says she fell off roof-Iranian media
DUBAI: Iranian authorities have denied reports security forces killed a 16-year-old girl during protests ignited by the death of a woman in police custody, Iranian media reported on Friday, saying she committed suicide by falling off a roof.
Social media reports and rights group Amnesty International have said Sarina Esmaeilzadeh was killed by security forces when she was struck with batons on the head during protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody.
Authorities earlier this week gave a similar cause of death — falling off a roof — for 17-year-old Nika Shakarami, who activists say was killed in Tehran while demonstrating over Amini’s death.
Rights groups say more than 150 people have been killed, hundreds have been injured and thousands arrested in a crackdown on nationwide protests marking the biggest challenge to Iran’s clerical leadership in years.
Women have played a prominent role, waving and burning headscarves. High school girls have also taken part.
The chief justice of Alborz province where Esmaeilzadeh died said a preliminary investigation showed her death was caused by suicide from a fall from the roof of a five-story building, the semi-official ISNA news agency said.
Chief justice Hossein Fazeli Herikandi said claims in opposition media about her death were “lies.” “Based on her mother’s account, Esmaeilzadeh had a history of suicide attempts,” he said. Police received a report of her death on Sept. 24, he said.
Reuters could not reach her family for comment.
Amnesty International, in a Sept. 30 report, said she was one of at least 52 people killed by security forces between Sept. 19 and Sept. 25, saying Esmaeilzadeh “died after being severely beaten in the head with batons.”
A video showing Esmaeilzadeh smiling and listening to music has been viewed around 147,000 times on the widely-followed 1500tasvir Twitter account.
Amini was arrested on Sept. 13 in Tehran for “inappropriate attire.” The authorities have said she suffered a heart attack after being taken to a station to be “educated.”
Her family have denied she had any heart problems. Her father has said she had bruises on her legs, and holds police responsible for her death.
The government has ordered an investigation.
Earlier this week, state media said a judicial case had been opened into Shakarami’s death, citing officials claiming it had nothing to do with the unrest, and that she had fallen off a roof and her body contained no bullet wounds. Activists have said she was killed in Tehran while demonstrating.

Lebanon inspecting new suspected cases of cholera

Lebanon inspecting new suspected cases of cholera
Updated 34 min 45 sec ago

Lebanon inspecting new suspected cases of cholera

Lebanon inspecting new suspected cases of cholera
  • News comes almost a month after an outbreak of the illness in neighboring war-torn Syria
  • A cholera infection is caused by consuming food or water infected with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s health minister said on Friday that authorities are inspecting suspected cases of cholera, less than a day after the cash-strapped country confirmed its first case of the illness since 1993.
The news came almost a month after an outbreak of the illness in neighboring war-torn Syria.
Firas Abiad, Lebanon’s caretaker health minister, said in a press conference that the first case was a middle-aged Syrian refugee man living in the impoverished northern province of Akkar, and confirmed a second case in the area.
“There are several other suspected cases,” Abiad said. “Cholera is an illness that is easily transmissible.”
The developments take place as Lebanon's economy continues to spiral, plunging three-quarters of its population into poverty. Rampant power cuts, water shortages, and skyrocketing inflation have deteriorated living conditions for millions.
The Lebanese health minister added that the authorities have been working with the United Nations Children’s Fund and World Health Organization for weeks to ensure the cash-strapped country can respond to a possible outbreak, and expand testing capacities at hospitals and labs.
“We're making sure that there is safe water and a good sewage system,” Abiad said.
According to the WHO, a cholera infection is caused by consuming food or water infected with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria, and while most cases are mild to moderate, not treating the illness could lead to death.
About 1 million Syrian refugees who fled their country’s civil war reside in neighboring Lebanon. Most live in extreme poverty in tented settlements or in overcrowded apartments.
Poverty has also deepened for many Lebanese, with many families often rationing water, unable to afford private water tanks for drinking and domestic use.
The health minister said Lebanon has secured the necessary equipment and medicines to treat patients.
Richard Brennan, Regional Emergency Director of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region told The Associated Press Thursday that the organization has also been coordinating with other countries neighboring Syria to help respond to a possible outbreak.
However, he said vaccines are in short supply due to global demand.
The UN and Syria’s Health Ministry have said the source of the outbreak is likely linked to people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates River and using contaminated water to irrigate crops, resulting in food contamination.
Syria’s health services have suffered heavily from its years-long war, while much of the country is short on supplies to sanitize water.
Syrian health officials as of Wednesday documented at least 594 cases of cholera and 39 deaths. Meanwhile, in the rebel-held northwest of the country, health authorities documented 605 suspected cases, dozens of confirmed cases, and at least one death.

Lebanese banks close again after holdups by depositors seeking their own money

Lebanese banks close again after holdups by depositors seeking their own money
Updated 36 min 36 sec ago

Lebanese banks close again after holdups by depositors seeking their own money

Lebanese banks close again after holdups by depositors seeking their own money
  • Banks will continue urgent operations for clients and back-office services for businesses

BEIRUT: Lebanese banks have unanimously decided to close their doors to clients indefinitely after a series of holdups by depositors seeking funds frozen in the banking system because of the country’s financial meltdown, two bankers told Reuters.
Banks will continue urgent operations for clients and back-office services for businesses, the bankers said, but front-office services will remain suspended after more than a dozen holdups in less than a month.
Banks closed for about a week last month in similar circumstances, but reopened at the beginning of October to allow employees to withdraw salaries.
Lebanon’s banks association has previously called on the government to enact formal capital controls to replace the informal controls banks adopted in 2019, but parliament has repeatedly failed to pass the law.
The government has made little progress toward reforms that would unlock an International Monetary Fund bailout to help ease a crisis caused by decades of wasteful spending and corruption.
Now in its third year, Lebanon’s financial meltdown has sunk the currency by more than 90 percent, spread poverty, paralyzed the financial system and frozen depositors out of their savings in Lebanon’s most destabilising crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.


Arab states condemn armed attack on kindergarten in Thailand

Arab states condemn armed attack on kindergarten in Thailand
Updated 07 October 2022

Arab states condemn armed attack on kindergarten in Thailand

Arab states condemn armed attack on kindergarten in Thailand
  • The foreign ministries of the UAE,  Jordan and Egypt released statements on Thursday strongly condemning the attack

Several Arab states condemned an attack on a preschool daycare center in Thailand that killed at least 36 people, most of them children. 

The foreign ministries of the UAE,  Jordan and Egypt released statements on Thursday strongly condemning the attack and expressing sincere condolences to the Thai government and families of the victims, wishing a speedy recovery for those injured.

Meanwhile, Kwauti’s Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf al-Sabah sent a cable of condolences to King Maha Vajiralongkorn. 

Police identified the killer as 34-year-old Panya Kamrab, a former police sergeant who was dismissed from service in January. According to a police report seen by Arab News, he was sacked after being found in possession of narcotics.

Panya is thought to have gone to the daycare center to find his son but when he failed to find the boy he began shooting. He then returned home, where he killed his wife and child.


Houthi landmine blast kills two Yemeni children, injures one

Houthi landmine blast kills two Yemeni children, injures one
Updated 07 October 2022

Houthi landmine blast kills two Yemeni children, injures one

Houthi landmine blast kills two Yemeni children, injures one
  • The Iran-backed group has refused to renew the UN-brokered cease-fire

DUBAI: Two children were killed and one was critically injured after landmine, planted by Houthi militants in Magzer district of Yemen’s Marib governorate, detonated.

The fatalities have been identified as eight-year-old Saqer Mohamed Sinan and 12-year-old Qa’ed Abdullah Khaimah Ashareef, while 13-year-old Ghazi Faraj Ahmed Sinan suffered serious injuries, Yemeni News Agency reported.

Villagers in the district have reported that the Houthis have been adamant not to extract the landmines they have randomly and intensively planted in roads, farms and residential areas.

Saudi Arabia’s Project Masam has so far located and destroyed 360,573 explosive devices including 5,672 anti-personnel mines, 132,637 anti-tank mines, 7,486 IEDs and 214,778 unexploded ordnances in Yemeni liberated areas since it was launched mid-2018.

The Iran-backed group has refused to renew the UN-brokered cease-fire, which took effect in April and has twice been renewed, and has resumed aggressive military operations in Marib, Taiz and Dhale after the last truce expired on Sunday.