RIP BlackBerry, 1999-2020? Having plummeted market dominance to irrelevance, the once-iconic smartphone could be gone for good, with manufacturer TCL deciding to axe production of the devices in August 2020.
TCL has been behind the design, manufacture and sales of BlackBerry handsets since 2016, but running on Android rather than the BlackBerry's own operating system – similar to a move made the same year by Nokia, which licensed partner HMD Global to produce a new line of Android-powered Nokia handsets.
"As of August 31, 2020, TCL Communication will no longer be selling BlackBerry-branded mobile devices,” the Chinese tech company confirms. "TCL has no further rights to design, manufacturers or sell any new BlackBerry mobile devices.”
TCL is calling time on the BlackBerry as it ramps up its own-branded line of smartphones and other 'smart' devices, including foldables built around the company's own flexible OLED screen technology.
At its peak, the BlackBerry was the device – part business tool, part status symbol – long before Apple popularised the concept by redefined smartphones as touchscreen slabs backed by a substantial and easy to use app ecosystem.
With a QWERTY keyboard for the nimble-fingered, email on the go via mobile and WiFi networks connectivity, plus long multi-day battery life, the BlackBerry was ahead of its time.
Its secure messaging and email found favour among among government and corporate users, while the Pavlovian ping as new emails arrived saw the device dubbed CrackBerry for its addictive nature.
At its peak, BlackBerry controlled 50% of the US smartphone market and 20% worldwide – but by 2017, technology research firm Gartner was reporting that 99.6 percent of new smartphones were running Android or iOS, while BlackBerry’s market share was reduced to a rounding error of 0.0 percent. This hero-to-zero downfall mapped a steady decline in sync with the rocket rise of iPhone and Android.
The BlackBerry's keyboard was considered such an essential element that many early competing smartphones aped the feature, convinced that 'power users' would never forego this for a touchscreen.
BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis dismissed the nascent threat of the iPhone for that reason, saying "I couldn't type on it and I still can't type on it, and a lot of my friends can't type on it... It's hard to type on a piece of glass."
Not that Lazaridis was Robinson Crusoe on dissing the device which soon demolished his business. "This is the most expensive phone in the world," said then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "And it doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard. Which makes it not a very good email machine. There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."
While some other companies have produced BlackBerry devices for Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, TCL was BlackBerry's prime mover on a global scale. There's no indication yet if BlackBerry will seek another manufacturing partner or return to making its own phones.