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Wait… What happened to Blackberry?

Today, the word blackberry is most commonly associated with bowls of muesli, or berry farms where you can spend a few hours picking fresh fruit.

Yet things were very different a decade ago.

Back then, the concept of a mobile phone being able to receive emails as well as calls still seemed advanced. And the world wasn’t fully sold on touchscreen keyboards.

Yet despite their ubiquity in 2010, BlackBerry handsets are now a niche choice.

The company only markets four products in the UK, while the proprietary BlackBerry OS was replaced by Android back in 2015.

Apart from a QWERTY keyboard on some models, BlackBerry is effectively just another manufacturer of Android handsets.

Indeed, some people will be surprised to learn the brand even exists in 2020, following years of widely publicised boardroom wrangling and poor decision-making.

So what happened to a brand once adored by working-age professionals?

Not so black as it’s painted

The inaugural BlackBerry pager launched in 1999, and it was another three years before its first smartphone combined push email and web access with traditional mobile phone services.

A perceptive decision to focus on email provision saw BlackBerry products rapidly achieve widespread consumer adoption.

Many models offered a tiny trackwheel or mouse-like trackball, with some handsets resembling miniature laptops more than mobile phones.

The launch of Apple’s iPhone in 2007 and Android OS the following year did little to dent demand for BlackBerry handsets, which reached a peak in 2012.

After that, the brand’s decline was rapid.

Handset designs became stale and dated, while the parent company’s weak financial position and endless boardroom wrangling led to corporate paralysis that prevented it doing anything revolutionary.

A much-delayed new operating system hobbled the brand further, while Android and iOS were forging ahead with user-friendly apps and ever-more sophisticated functionality.

A four-day outage of the BlackBerry Internet Service in 2011 coincided with the launch of a new iPhone, whose operating system looked positively bombproof by comparison.

Software developers increasingly shunned BlackBerry OS, focusing on apps for its more successful rivals. The lack of a full-size touchscreen also hindered app development.

In 2016, BlackBerry’s six-figure handset sales equated to less than 0.1 per cent of the global market, as the company struggled to survive in a touchscreen-dominated world.

At home on the range

The current range of BlackBerry handsets is reassuringly familiar, with three of its four models offering physical QWERTY keyboards.

Having replaced BlackBerry OS with Android in 2015, most Android apps are now compatible with BlackBerry devices.

The robust aluminium-bodied Key2 offers a two-day battery life with a fingerprint scanner in its space bar, up to 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM.

The 3:2 aspect, 4.5-inch screen is disappointing, the cameras are decidedly old-tech, and having to hold down the ALT key to type a number quickly becomes irritating.

Even so, the Key2 may find a happy home with anyone who misses either a physical keyboard or the iconic BlackBerry brand.

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