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

Enter


keywords


Yemeni army reports 4,276 Houthi truce violations

Yemeni army reinforcements arrive to join fighters loyal to Yemen's government in Marib on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
Yemeni army reinforcements arrive to join fighters loyal to Yemen's government in Marib on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 39 sec ago

Yemeni army reports 4,276 Houthi truce violations

Yemeni army reinforcements arrive to join fighters loyal to Yemen's government in Marib on November 16, 2021. (AFP)
  • Militia attacks continue on government troops in Marib, Taiz, Saada and Hajjah

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s army has said that the Iran-backed Houthis have violated a UN-brokered truce more than 4,276 times since day one by mobilizing fighters and launching drone and missile attacks on government troops, even as the militia indicated its acceptance of its renewal.

The truce, which is the longest since the war began, came into effect on April 2 and has led to reduced violence and deaths across the country, the UN said.

But the Yemeni army said the Houthis continued to gather heavy artillery, military vehicles, and fighters outside the strategic city of Marib, had attacked government troops in Marib, Taiz, Saada, and Hajjah, and created new military outposts.

Members of Yemen’s government forces search for explosive devices in a house in the village of Hays in the western province of Hodeida on Monday. (AFP)

“The Houthis are challenging the truce and international resolutions. They have not adhered to the truce,” Maj. Gen. Abdu Abdullah Majili, an army spokesperson, told Arab News on Monday.  

FASTFACT

The UN’s Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg is pushing the government and militia to extend the truce and put into place its unfulfilled components, including opening roads in Taiz and other provinces.

The Houthi violations come as the UN’s Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg pushes the government and militia to extend the truce and put into place its unfulfilled components, including opening roads in Taiz and other provinces.

On Sunday, the head of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, Mahdi Al-Mashat, said the movement would accept an extension of the truce with its opponents, boosting hopes of stopping hostilities across the country for another two or three months.

“We affirm that we are not against extending the truce, but what is not possible is the acceptance of any truce in which the suffering of our people continues,” the Houthi leader said.

In Aden, the head of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, also expressed his support on Saturday for current efforts by international mediators to extend the truce.

At the same time, activists and rights groups intensified their campaigns on the ground and on social media to highlight the grave consequences of the Houthi siege on thousands of Taiz residents.

The Abductees Mothers’ Association, an umbrella group for relatives of those abducted in Yemen, said Sunday that checkpoints manned by the Houthis outside Taiz had seized 417 people seeking to enter or leave the city since the beginning of the war.

The Houthis have laid a siege on Yemen’s third-largest city since early 2015 after failing to seize control of it due to strong resistance from troops and local fighters.

The Houthis barred people from driving through the main roads, deployed snipers, and planted landmines, forcing people into using dangerous and unpaved roads.  

“Civilians in #Taiz are forced to use alternative long, narrow, winding, and unsafe routes, which caused a lot of accidents that killed and injured hundreds of victims,” tweeted the American Center for Justice, a rights group established by Yemeni activists. It added that Houthi snipers indiscriminately gunned down civilians while they carried out their everyday activities.

“Most of the children sniped by Houthi snipers were targeted while fetching water, grazing the sheep, playing near their homes, or returning from schools,” the organization said.


Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘was forced to sign false confession at airport’

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. (AFP)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. (AFP)
Updated 8 sec ago

Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘was forced to sign false confession at airport’

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. (AFP)
  • It’s a tool. So I am sure they will show that some day

LONDON: A British-Iranian charity worker who was detained in Tehran for almost six years says she was forced by Iranian officials to sign a false confession to spying before she was freed two months ago.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said British government officials were present at Tehran airport when “under duress” she signed the false admission to spying.
She said she was told by Iranian officials that “you won’t be able to get on the plane” unless she signed.
“The whole thing of me signing the forced confession was filmed,” Zaghari-Ratcliffe told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Monday.
“It’s a tool. So I’m sure they will show that some day.”
Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Tulip Siddiq, who represents Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s home district in London, said the revelation raised “serious questions” for the British government.
She said Foreign Secretary Liz Truss “must set out in Parliament what she knew about this shocking revelation and what consequences it could have for my constituent.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained at Tehran’s airport in April 2016 as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family in Iran. She was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, but she was on vacation at the time of her arrest.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison after she was convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups denied.
She had been under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran for the last two years.
She and another dual citizen, Anoosheh Ashoori, were released and flown back to the UK in March.
Their release came after Britain paid a £400 million ($503 million) debt to Iran stemming from a dispute over tanks that were ordered in the 1970s but were never delivered.


Tunisian union calls national strike over wages and the economy

Tunisian union calls national strike over wages and the economy. (AFP)
Tunisian union calls national strike over wages and the economy. (AFP)
Updated 15 min 55 sec ago

Tunisian union calls national strike over wages and the economy

Tunisian union calls national strike over wages and the economy. (AFP)
  • The president’s opponents accuse him of undermining the democratic gains of the 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab spring, but he says his moves were legal and needed to save Tunisia from a prolonged political crisis

TUNIS: Tunisia’s labor union said on Monday it would hold a national strike over wages and the economy after refusing to take part in a limited dialogue proposed by the president as he rewrites the constitution.
With more than a million members, the UGTT is Tunisia’s most powerful political force and its call for a strike may present the biggest challenge yet to President Kais Saied after his seizure of broad powers and moves to one-man rule.
Saied has focused on his political agenda since last summer when he brushed aside the parliament and discounted most of Tunisia’s democratic constitution to say he would rule by decree despite a gathering economic crisis.
The president’s opponents accuse him of undermining the democratic gains of the 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab spring, but he says his moves were legal and needed to save Tunisia from a prolonged political crisis.
The union has demanded a meaningful national dialogue on both political and economic reforms, but it rejected Saied’s proposal that it join a small advisory group of other civil society organizations that could submit reform ideas.

BACKGROUND

President Kais Saied’s government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout but the labor union has rejected proposed spending cuts and instead wants wage increases for state workers.

Saied said last week that political parties would be barred from a role in forming the new constitution, which would replace the 2014 document that emerged from an inclusive debate among Tunisia’s main political factions and social organizations.
“We reject any formal dialogue in which roles are determined unilaterally and from which civil and political forces are excluded,” UGTT spokesperson Sami Tahri said.
Tunisia’s major political parties pledged to fight Saied’s decision to exclude them from key political reforms including the drafting of a new constitution and accused him of seeking to consolidate autocratic rule. Achaab, the newspaper of the union, said that Saied met with the UGTT leader on Sunday and informed him that he insisted that the dialogue will be in its current formula that he proposed.
The date of the strike, by UGTT members working in public services and state companies, will be announced later, Tahri said.
Saied’s government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout, seen as necessary to ward off national bankruptcy, but the UGTT has rejected proposed spending cuts and instead wants wage increases for state workers.


More hardship as new sandstorm engulfs parts of Middle East

More hardship as new sandstorm engulfs parts of Middle East
Updated 21 min 39 sec ago

More hardship as new sandstorm engulfs parts of Middle East

More hardship as new sandstorm engulfs parts of Middle East
  • It is the latest in a series of unprecedented nearly back-to-back sandstorms this year that have bewildered residents and raised alarm among experts
  • Geoarchaeologist Jaafar Jotheri: ‘Its a region-wide issue but each country has a different degree of vulnerability and weakness’

BAGHDAD: A sandstorm blanketed parts of the Middle East on Monday, including Iraq, Syria and Iran, sending people to hospitals and disrupting flights in some places.
It was the latest in a series of unprecedented nearly back-to-back sandstorms this year that have bewildered residents and raised alarm among experts and officials, who blame climate change and poor governmental regulations.
From Riyadh to Tehran, bright orange skies and a thick veil of grit signaled yet another stormy day Monday. Sandstorms are typical in late spring and summer, spurred by seasonal winds. But this year they have occurred nearly every week in Iraq since March.
Iraqi authorities declared the day a national holiday, urging government workers and residents to stay home in anticipation of the 10th storm to hit the country in the last two months. The Health Ministry stockpiled cannisters of oxygen at facilities in hard-hit areas, according to a statement.
The storms have sent thousands to hospitals and resulted in at least one death in Iraq and three in Syria’s east.
“Its a region-wide issue but each country has a different degree of vulnerability and weakness,” said Jaafar Jotheri, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Al-Qadisiyah in Baghdad.
In Syria, medical departments were put on alert as the sandstorm hit the eastern province of Deir Ezzor that borders Iraq, Syrian state TV said. Earlier this month, a similar storm in the region left at least three people dead and hundreds were hospitalized with breathing problems.
Dr. Bashar Shouaybi, head of the Health Ministry’s office in Deir Ezzor, told state TV that hospitals were prepared and ambulances were on standby. He said they have acquired an additional 850 oxygen tanks and medicine needed to deal with patients who have asthma.
Severe sandstorms have also blanketed parts of Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia this month.
For the second time this month, Kuwait International Airport suspended all flights Monday because of the dust. Video showed largely empty streets with poor visibility.
Saudi Arabia’s meteorological association reported that visibility would drop to zero on the roads in Riyadh, the capital, this week. Officials warned drivers to go slowly. Emergency rooms in the city were flooded with 1,285 patients this month complaining they couldn’t breathe properly.
Iran last week shut down schools and government offices in the capital of Tehran over a sandstorm that swept the country. It hit hardest in the nation’s southwest desert region of Khuzestan, where over 800 people sought treatment for breathing difficulties. Dozens of flights out of western Iran were canceled or delayed.
Blame over the dust storms and heavy air pollution has mounted, with a prominent environmental expert telling local media that climate change, drought and government mismanagement of water resources are responsible for the increase in sandstorms. Iran has drained its wetlands for farming — a common practice known to produce dust in the region.
Alireza Shariat, the head of an association of Iranian water engineers, told Iran’s semiofficial ILNA news agency last month that he expected extensive dust storms to become an “annual springtime phenomenon” in a way Iran has never seen before.
In Iraq, desertification exacerbated by record-low rainfall is adding to the intensity of storms, said Jotheri, the geoarchaeologist. In a low-lying country with plenty of desert regions, the impact is almost double, he said.
“Because of 17 years of mismanagement of water and urbanization, Iraq lost more than two thirds of its green cover,” he said. “That is why Iraqis are complaining more than their neighbors about the sandstorms in their areas.”


Lebanese authorities begin removing barriers around parliament after elections

Lebanese police stand guard at the entrance of the Lebanese parliament in Beirut on Monday. (AFP)
Lebanese police stand guard at the entrance of the Lebanese parliament in Beirut on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 33 min 44 sec ago

Lebanese authorities begin removing barriers around parliament after elections

Lebanese police stand guard at the entrance of the Lebanese parliament in Beirut on Monday. (AFP)
  • New MPs call for restrictions to be eased before first session of the house

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities on Monday began removing concrete barriers around the country’s parliament building after the election of former protesters as MPs.

The security measures had been put in place at the outbreak of massive anti-government protests in 2019. They are to be relaxed following the election of a dozen reformist newcomers to the 128-member legislature, including some who had taken part in the protest movement.

Some of the new MPs had called for the restrictions to be eased before they attended the first session of the new parliament.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi attended the start of the work yesterday afternoon.

The clearing will be completed before the next parliament session is held, a statement from House Speaker Nabih Berri’s office said.

The move comes after the election of 15 MPs from the Forces of Change group, which was demonstrating in the streets around parliament, in addition to a number of independent MPs.

Beirut MP Ibrahim Mneimneh, from the Forces of Change, said: “There is no need for the barriers placed around the people’s house because it is for the people. They are needless barriers.”

He said that the measures decided by Berri were the result of the traditional ruling forces realizing “the decline of their popularity, so they decided to respond to the popular demands.”

MP Waddah Sadiq, a former protester, said the fences around parliament are a separation wall. “Today, parliament represents the people who demand change, so they decided to ease the procedures,” Sadiq sad.

Sadiq said that the economic and living crises “are increasing, and people may turn to a state of rejection again. We need the pressure to address them.”

He said that the previous government did not take any effective handling measures.

The plan approved by the government included neither recovery nor economy, said the MP. “Therefore, we are entering a difficult phase and we will be on the side of the people.”

MP Elias Jarada, an ophthalmologist from the southern town of Ibl Al-Saqi, called the "doctor of the poor," said that “the parliament is the house of the people, and there are no fences that can separate the representatives of the nation and the citizens.”

He said that all the barriers that prevent people from entering Nejmeh Square must be removed before the MPs are invited to any session.

Ali Hamdan, the media adviser to the parliamentary speaker, told Arab News that “these measures are not an indication of excessive confidence. Rather, elections were held and the results have brought representatives of the protesters to parliament.”

He said: “These people represent part of the street, and you may call them a movement, an uprising or a change.”

He said the speaker had decided to take a step to reduce security measures, but they “will not be completely lifted around the parliament.”

He said that some in Lebanon still feared security setbacks.

“There are successive crises, including the customs dollar and the rise in telecom prices, and we witnessed what happened in Greece and Cyprus.”

The area around the building had been transformed by concrete walls that blocked all the roads leading to Nejmeh Square.

Hotels in the area closed as a result of the damages they suffered from each wave of popular protests targeting parliament since Oct. 17, 2019.

Institutions, companies and shops all moved out of the area after it became difficult to reach them. The area turned into a ghost town as a result of power outages and the absence of people.

Parliament meetings there were suspended after the explosion of the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, which damaged the building.

The parliament moved its meetings temporarily to the UNESCO Palace, which is on the western-south edge of the capital.

While the temporary location provided a spacious hall, comfortable seats and social distancing as required during the pandemic, it did not provide electronic voting for deputies or the electronic list for the attendance of deputies.

Bechara Asmar, head of General Labor Union, said he was concerned about “the continuation of sterile debates while crises become more complex.”