I’ve not been in contact with BlackBerry for some time, and I doubt anyone from BlackBerry has been rushing to get in touch with me. Hopefully that might change in the coming months, as I prepare to eat an awful lot of humble pie.
My last encounter with the firm was the launch of the BlackBerry Z10. No doubt my comments since then have played a part in me no longer getting press releases, invites to events, or the supply of devices to review. And I’ve not lost any sleep over it.
I’ve long been saying that we’re looking at the pending demise of the company, or at the very least a discontinuation of hardware production that would mean pretty much the same thing for the ordinary punter.
I came away with the Z10 from their big launch of BlackBerry OS 10 and the renaming of the company from Research In Motion.
I still have it today, but it’s not been used in ages. I wanted to like it, but couldn’t. Now it wasn’t actually a terrible device. It lacked a keyboard, which is what a lot of people hated, but BlackBerry had come up with a pretty good on-screen one. It was nice to hold, had a reasonable camera, and acceptable battery life.
But it had next to no apps.
Well, that’s not strictly true. It had lots of apps, but they were mostly all a con. An app store full of glorified web bookmarks really doesn’t count, and then there was the scandal of a single developer that churned out so many ‘apps’ (BlackBerry was paying to get apps on its store, so someone clearly took full advantage of easy money) that it accounted for a third of everything on the store at one point.
I never got to see future devices, nor the Passport that I have really mixed views on, and I’ve seen more and more people eventually jump ship. Even people who, like me, once swore blind they’d NEVER give up their CrackBerry.
It seems we all managed to go cold turkey, with no harmful side effects, putting BlackBerry in the very precarious position it is in today.
Now, let me pause for a bit and try to give you some perspective. Back in the early 2000s, one of my first freelance gigs for What Mobile magazine (long before I became Editor) was reviewing the BlackBerry 7200 with a full keyboard AND colour screen.
I was converted almost overnight. The keyboard made texting and emailing a dream (doing away with the need for my bulky laptop), and even the web browser (primitive by today’s standards) felt good and very capable, even though it wasn’t that great at all.
The battery was excellent and it felt like the future. It was acceptable to have a phone in a holster then (it was, wasn’t it?) making it so convenient to pop it in to put the phone into standby instantly.
It also made calls, although that was the one thing I rarely did as I still carried a separate phone for that.
Since then, the company released many new models and I probably reviewed just about all of them. Including the somewhat dodgy SureType models that I disliked vehemently, and then the well-intentioned but somewhat flawed Storm – the first of many attempts to drop the keyboard.
My last encounter with BlackBerry was the Bold, which seemed like the perfect device. Sadly by then, iOS and Android had started to take over, and it became all about apps (and, let’s be honest some games too).
This is where I eventually called it a day, shortly before teenagers also decided to give up on their Curves to seek new life on other platforms, gladly giving up BBM for pastures new and switching to WhatsApp for their instant messaging needs.
Even today, anyone seen with a BlackBerry is probably still using an older device. It’s fair to say that all BB OS 10 devices fell way short of the mark.
The future is not set
I could easily have been writing this as an obituary for BlackBerry, but now everything has been flipped upside down and it looks like there could be a positive outcome for the company after all.
Normally I don’t get too involved with rumour stories, but the leaks of the BlackBerry Priv (formerly called Venice) are coming so thick and fast, it’s fair to say that we now know for absolute fact that there will be a move to Android, and that – to quote the late Steve Jobs – changes everything.
It’s not just me getting a positive vibe from the news, and loads of people are saying how they can’t wait to get hold of one and enjoy a proper keyboard once more.
I’ve argued for some time that people are now used to software keyboards, but when I’m Tweeting live at a product launch, or trying to write up something at a show while walking the halls, I find myself constantly making corrections, and when trying to type acronyms or technical terms, nothing can beat a proper keyboard.
Sorry, SwiftKey, you’re great and everything – but real buttons win.
In the wild.
— Evan Blass (@evleaks) August 29, 2015
The best thing about the Priv appears to be that it isn’t like Android devices of the past where adding a keyboard seemed to make a manufacturer think the customer would be a teenager, so the specs were slashed until it was near non-functional.
Motorola dabbled for a while with its Milestone devices, and I had the original. Problem is, it didn’t get many OS updates and nothing has come out since. Now no manufacture seems to be making them, although I bet they might next year, given how they’re desperate to keep sales up in an ever increasing replacement-only market.
The Priv will – apparently – have the following specs.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 with 3GB RAM
- 5.4 inch QHD Samsung S6 edge-like curved display (2560×1440 pixels)
- Undetermined internal storage (possibly 64GB) PLUS a microSDXC card slot
- 18-megapixel camera (5MP front)
- Google applications plus BlackBerry Hub
- A loud speaker in keeping with the need to offer a good conference call/hands free experience
- FULL QWERTY keyboard with biometric sense touch for screen navigation
By anyone’s standards, that’s pretty awesome. And the phone isn’t a chunky brick either, as many previous phones with slide-out keyboards have been.
It’s not clear how big the battery will be, which could be crucial to the success of the device (and perhaps the thin design might be setting some alarm bells ringing, although a rumour on Geek Snack suggest 3,700mAh – PLEASE GOD MAKE THAT BE TRUE).
Whatever the final specs, it sounds like the perfect phone for anyone that needs to improve their ability to type, whether for productivity or just for speeding up instant messaging and posting to Facebook.
Whether the Priv could become my ‘daily driver’ is probably going to come down to the battery life, but for all my previous years with a BlackBerry, it was always a secondary device anyway.
This is not a decision I need worry about just yet, especially when this phone hasn’t yet been officially announced, but I have to now say that it must have been a tough decision for BlackBerry to make, but plenty of people (myself included) said this needed to happen for years.
It is undoubtedly the right move, even if some BlackBerry fans might be feeling betrayed at this point. There’s no reason to feel let down if BlackBerry can maintain security and port over the Hub.
I am sure developers will eagerly port their apps if there’s no form of emulation to allow the Priv to run existing ones, so I can’t really see any downsides in the long term.
I am ecstatic that the Priv is happening and only hope BlackBerry can forgive me for all the bad things I’ve said, although to be honest I think the company should probably be thanking me (and the many others) for taking this much-needed step towards saving the company and getting things back on track.
The Priv has not yet got a confirmed release date, nor is it known what regions the device will be released in. I can only hope that the UK features in the plans. (edit: it will – and Carphone Warehouse has just done a preview and has started taking pre-orders)
All this now just leaves me wondering what HTC is going to do to make me change my mind over its future…