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It’s not over until BlackBerry says it’s over

11/18/2015

One of the most confounding thoughts in the history of American business is the fact Coca-Cola could have bought Pepsi in the 1930s. The biggest soda maker in the world at one point could have ended its chief rival. Now, that’s not to say another company wouldn’t have surged up and become what Pepsi is today, but Coke versus Pepsi is the go-to reference for blood rival businesses. That would be like Ford buying Chevy during its bankruptcy, HBO buying Showtime at any point, or Apple buying BlackBerry today. Problem is, Apple might have missed its window to rid itself of BlackBerry, as the fallen smartphone giant is clawing its way back to relevance.tech 11.19 copy

Before Apple changed the mobile device world with the iPhone, there was Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry. At its height in 2006, the BlackBerry and all smartphones were mostly business tools meant for sending emails and scheduling meetings with its famous keyboard and trackball — trying to do anything else was a nightmare. In 2007, the iPhone hit the market and changed the way consumers saw their phones. Suddenly businessmen as well as regular consumers could enjoy mobile messaging as well mobile gaming, photo sharing, web browsing and a touch screen that was so intuitive it made everyone in tech say, “Why didn’t we think of that?” It took RIM a year to respond with its own touch-screen phone, the “BlackBerry Storm,” but its rushed design and business-oriented user experience failed to draw consumers’ attention.

Today, saying you use a BlackBerry (no longer known as RIM) is akin to saying you own a rotary phone. It seems only the president (a devout and well-known BlackBerry user) and a few masked men use BlackBerrys. As of summer 2015, just 0.3 percent of worldwide cellphone users had BlackBerrys. That is a monumental drop from when 43 percent of cellphones were BlackBerrys. That percentage is embarrassing. The only other former tech giant that might know what that feels like is Myspace. The difference is Myspace had the sense to pack it in when things got bad, whereas BlackBerry refuses to wave the white flag.

Oddly enough, while BlackBerry has been on death watch for years, its latest last gasp has given the faithful a sign of possible resurgence. For the first time since the iPhone revolution, BlackBerry has put out a device that embraces a mobile user experience people are comfortable with — Android. The Priv (easily the worst name in the mobile device game) is a high-end Android smartphone designed by BlackBerry, which features the traditional slideout keyboard and popular BlackBerry services such as BlackBerry Messenger.

Why install the Android operating system? Because this is truly the 11th hour for BlackBerry, and instead of selling off the few features that keep its few users around, it has decided to throw one last Hail Mary. The funny thing is, this shot in the dark seems to be connecting. According to BlackBerry, The Priv is currently sold out on Amazon. Apparently a phone from a near-dead company that abandons its decade-long operating system, and is currently only available on the AT&T network, is something of a hit. Not only is Amazon sold out, but so is Best Buy and B&H, and now Verizon is advertising the Priv will soon be available for its network as well.

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Will BlackBerry march back to market dominance? Extremely unlikely. But if this surge continues and BlackBerry climbs from 0.3 percent market share to, say, 5-10 percent, Apple will regret not acquiring BlackBerry when its share price was in the gutter. CV

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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