A Failed Smartphone Changed Telecom History

If you ask a dozen different business telecom experts about which singular moment or model changed the history of business phone systems the most, you will receive a surprising number of different answers.

Some might argue that the earliest analogue mobile phones allowed business leaders to make decisions anywhere where there was a signal, whilst others might claim the original iPhone was the moment that everything changed.

For others, it was one of the earlier evolutions of the smartphone, including the Apple Newton PDA, the IBM Simon, the Palm Pilot or the original incarnations of the BlackBerry.

All of these are very justifiable answers and there are countless other potential options, but arguably, the mobile phone that changed the business communications world the most was not a success but instead was such a huge failure that it set in motion a tectonic shift.

Before this phone, there were a huge number of different smart devices used in business that met different niches. After that, every phone was either an iPhone or a powerful Android smartphone.

The reason for this lies in a single phone that serves as a missing link.


BlackBerry’s Fall From Grace

Whilst Research In Motion was formed in 1984 and the BlackBerry name was used as early as 1999, it would not be until the following year the BlackBerry 957 in 2000 that the company would combine a mobile phone and a personal digital assistant, creating the business smartphone in the process.

What followed was a decade of significant success, first in the enterprise market, and eventually in the consumer market as well, buoyed by its then-revolutionary full-sized keyboards that allowed for emails and SMS messages to be sent more easily than traditional number pads.

Up until 2007, many smartphones and mobile phones designed for the enterprise market were designed to look like BlackBerry’s devices. That was until the Apple iPhone was released.

After the late Steve Jobs made one of the most famous and successful keynote speeches of his life, manufacturers and consumers alike were questioning exactly whether they needed a bulky keyboard all of the time.

At the time, however, it was not entirely clear that touchscreens were the future, given that touchscreens and the interfaces designed for touchscreens were previously found wanting.

This, combined with the relative expense of the iPhone meant that BlackBerry had an opportunity to solidify its place in the business smartphone market whilst the iPhone was confined to luxury use.

The problem was that their direct response was the BlackBerry Storm in 2008, which was a classic example of creating something intended to please everyone that ultimately satisfied nobody.

The key selling point of the Storm was its SureType system, which was intended to provide the tactility of buttons with the versatility of a touchscreen.

What it provided, in reality, was an exceptionally slow and cumbersome single button that completely ruined the user experience, did not provide the desired versatility and would lead to BlackBerry conceding defeat in the full touchscreen market, ultimately fading from existence over the next decade.

Whether they could have survived without the Storm is uncertain, but it became clear that touchscreens were the future, not necessarily because of the iPhone but because of the reactions to it.


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