BlackBerry was once an iconic mobile phone. US presidential hopeful Barack Obama was an obsessive user. What a relief it was that he could keep tapping away on it after entering the White House in 2009. But BlackBerry’s dominance as the phone of choice for power players faded as Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android phones supplanted the once-ubiquitous business machine. Obama finally ditched his BlackBerry in 2016, long after it had gone out of style.
That time has now come for everyone else. BlackBerry’s classic models will effectively stop working on Jan. 4, the company said in a statement. Calling, texting, and even 9-1-1 services will be unreliable at first and eventually non-functional. Any phone running on BlackBerry software will soon be useless.
The once and future BlackBerry
In 2009, BlackBerry held 20% of the global market share in smartphones and its sales peaked in 2011, shipping 52 million devices that year, but by 2012 critics were already eulogizing it. By 2016, BlackBerry held a measly 0.01% market share—a long, drawn out obsolescence.
BlackBerry tried for years to stay relevant as a mobile phone company. It rebooted with a new operating system in 2013, it tried making Android devices, and it even licensed its name to TCL devices. But ultimately it failed to adapt to the times: It couldn’t find mass appeal among non-business users, it bet on a panned music service, and did not form partnerships with other companies in tech and telecom. This failure to hold on to its legions of business-class users that have stayed loyal to other brands like Microsoft and American Express spelled its demise.
BlackBerry as a meme stock
BlackBerry renewed its lease on life in 2021. The company that used to make mobile phones now sells cybersecurity software to businesses and governments. Its five-year corporate transformation that commenced in 2016 amounted to $171 million in revenue for cybersecurity and internet of things management, according to third-quarter reporting.
Those faint signs of life prompted online retail investors to turn BlackBerry into a meme stock in 2021, around the same time they began snapping up shares of GameStop and AMC Entertainment sending the price “to the moon.” Nokia, Bed Bath & Beyond, and other staples of the 2000s economy got caught up too. BlackBerry’s stock rose from $6.52 at the start of the year to a high of $28.77 in January 2021, but it has mostly fallen back to earth, now trading around $9.26.
BlackBerry’s rally was a mix of nostalgia and faith in its new software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model. But BlackBerry must now build a successful enterprise business model or end up as a nostalgiac meme for older generations, a new MySpace of the smartphone age.