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Blackberry Turns To Ephemeral Messaging

The Real Surprise: Blackberry Isn't Dead

Once upon a time, the mobile marketplace was dominated by a company with one key belief: that every single one of their devices was in need of a physical keyboard. Smartphone? Keyboard. Housephone? Whack on a keyboard. Cheap, everyday mobile? Stick a keyboard on there and you'll have yourself a device, mister.

Because this was before the iPhone transformed touchscreens from slow, cumbersome frustrations to outright necessities, people readily agreed with this qwerty-centric philosophy, and physical keyboards reigned supreme. The company who held this mantra was known as 'Blackberry' (look them up in your local library, kids), and for years, life at their towers was good. So good, in fact, that they held just under 50% of US market share for mobile devices until as recently as 2009.
But time moved on in a rush, and it never gave Blackberry the chance to keep up. Instead of adapting, they chose to stick with physical keyboards in a world that gradually stopped wanting them. Meanwhile, Apple were taking the initiative and outmarketing everyone in the race to become synonymous with touchscreens, which soon came to enjoy a level of popularity so high it will (probably) never wane. Google quickly followed Apple's lead with Android. Then Microsoft flopped out the gate with Windows Mobile, an operating system with little app support, few attached brands and almost no consumer interest (and yet more fans than Blackberry).

So what was a multinational company to do? They hinted at the answer in 2005, when they released the actually-quite-popular Blackberry Messenger. BBM enjoyed a few years in the sun (who else remembers the days when their Facebook walls were constantly spammed with requests for BBM pins?), but eventually faded with its maker's hardware. Things went quiet until 2013, when Blackberry released a huge update for BBM. Against all odds, it shot straight to the top of the iTunes chartsThen it died again.

Horribly. Painfully. Pitifully. Insert your own adjective-ly.

Fortunately, Blackberry's workers are a plucky bunch. They clearly graduated from the school of hard knocks (where they learnt basic coding on Thursday mornings), and have refused to just give up and cash in the last of their memory chips. Despite losses approaching a billion dollars last year (to add to the billions they've leaked in the past), Blackberry have mustered the enthusiasm to announce another update to their standalone app. The update is currently in beta, and it features...wait for it...I'm about to use this month's buzzword...it features ephemeral messaging.

By Snapchat-ising their service, Blackberry have finally learnt to tap into what's popular. The only problem is, they've left it far too late.
Maybe I'm being harsh. Maybe this update will appeal to millions of new customers and give their hardware the shot in the arm it's so desperate for. It does have a few advantages over the infinite number of other ephemeral messaging apps (a phrase I'm getting sick of typing) out there, most notably that it allows you to control your content even after you've pressed the send button. You'll be able to choose how long your content can be seen after it's been opened (of course), but you'll also be able to retract a message after sending it if you decide that, in hindsight, it was a little too risqué.

It’s a neat enough feature, but doesn't exactly scream: "company saver." It's not the game-changer Blackberry need, it's just an incremental upgrade.
Mobile phone users downloading yet another messaging app ahead of Facebook Messenger seems unlikely. Reverting to BBM instead of sticking with WhatsApp seems even less so. Despite its early promise, BBM's first update failed. It came, it burned brightly for a bit, then it dissolved into the ether. Will this new update be good enough for it to avoid suffering the same fate?

Probably not, but it does serve as an indication that Blackberry might go all Sega on us; to finally surrender its hardware division and instead focus on making potentially profitable software. Who knows, maybe they'll stumble upon the next must-have feature and fluke their way into another monopoly. Then they might try and cram an unnecessary keyboard into it and ruin it forever.

Or maybe this update will be DOA, and they'll save us all some time.


Emile is a postgrad from the University of Saint Mark and Saint John. He’s hoping to break into journalism or publishing, and won’t stop blogging until he’s managed it! Follow him @EmileAtSMF.

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Blackberry Turns To Ephemeral Messaging Reviewed by Emile Cole on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 Rating: 5
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