June 29 wasn’t a good day for BlackBerry addicts. Late afternoon on that Wednesday, a notice went out to U.S. Senate staffers bearing the subject line “BlackBerry Discontinuation.” Senate personnel will no longer be provided official BlackBerry smartphones. Six days later, the Ontario-based company announced that it was discontinuing its Classic smartphone.
The BlackBerry Classic was one of just three BlackBerries that still had full QWERTY keyboards. Only two-and-a-half years old, it was intended as a last reach out to those who prefer hard keys clicking beneath their thumbs. It soon became apparent the Classic wasn’t going to initiate a turnaround. Eighteen months after the phone’s debut, the IDC research group listed the BlackBerry OS’s share of the smartphone market at a meager 0.3%. Market leaders were the Android OS devices at about 72% and Apple’s iOS at 13%.
In many of the stories covering these quietly closing doors at BlackBerry, the reporters alluded to the end of an era. Certainly, the BlackBerry is as iconic a piece of technology as Apple’s Mac and Palm’s Pilot, but it’s unlikely that the “BlackBerry era” is over. No one carries around a Palm PDA anymore, but all its functions are still in our pockets, only much more sophisticated, in color, and on smartphones. And Apple’s revolutionary graphical user interface has survived, reborn in Retina-sharp resolution on the iPad tablets. Eras don’t always close; most seem to drift downstream.
ONLY CHANGE IS PERMANENT
One timeless rule of both nature and history is that “nothing endures but change itself.” The sentiment is a translation of an ancient notion from the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. He also famously cautioned us, “Don’t expect to be able to step into the same river twice.” The river is constantly changing.
So how do those realities relate to today’s churn swirling in our tech spheres? Remember getting used to all the intricacies of the new Windows XP operating system? And that was followed by Vista, Windows 7, and the bad news of Windows 8, then the fixed-up 8 V.1, and then Windows 10. This didn’t happen over decades—just years (2002-2015) that we spent bobbing along in that stream. The first observation then is: If you expect it ever to stop or slow down, you’re going to be disappointed.
There are several other lessons to be learned from the changes now going on at BlackBerry. Maybe the company shouldn’t have opened up a security back door when foreign governments asked for an encryption key. Maybe hardware keys aren’t the best way to tap out text messages or e-mails. And maybe more effort to capture the interest of app developers would have made a difference. It just doesn’t matter—if you expect to be able to build something big enough that its own massive inertia will allow it to survive standing still, you’re missing something.
TWO TYPES OF PAIN
There are two basic currents at work guiding the course of change for hardware and software. There’s the familiarity that settles in once you’ve invested the time and effort to learn to use your new device and its software. That’s opposed to the allure, the pull of the latest and greatest innovation or set of new functions. History demonstrates that we always reach for the new.
The other force of change can be even more wrenching because it’s imposed from without. The current problem for the senators, for example, derives from the companies’ decisions, not the senators’ own choices. And there are other outside upheavals that can be even more sweeping, such as what might likely follow from the impending sale of the Internet giant Yahoo.
What’s for sale are the Yahoo portal, all of the acquisitions, and 3,000 of Yahoo’s patents. The length and breadth of the number of users who will be affected can be estimated using the longevity of the website, 22 years online, and the reach it has as the fifth-most visited website in the United States and fifth-most globally, according to the analytics website Alexa.
Will the new owners make changes, and will you be affected in some personal and immediate way? Well, do you have a Yahoo e-mail account? Are your portfolios set up on Yahoo Finance for daily tracking? Do you check News, Weather, Fantasy Sports, Search, or Messenger on the portal? Are your vacation photos on Flickr, or do you spend time on Tumblr? These are all free services today.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said at the shareholder meeting in late June, “We’re continuing to make great progress. [I’ve] been very heartened by the level of interest in Yahoo.”
Will Yahoo remain the same portal conceived by the founders Jerry Yang and David Filo? Not likely.