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Fade to Black(Berry): 8 years covering the rise and fall of RIM

Al Sacco | Oct. 9, 2013
Al Sacco says goodbye to the company he intimately covered for more than eight years.

"When are you going to put that hideous thing away and start using a BlackBerry to record interviews?" Lazaridis asked with a semi-sneer.

I was already nervous - this was one of the first times I interviewed a bigwig of a major company - and I was admittedly impressed with Lazaridis. I rushed to get the recorder in place and hit the wrong button to begin recording. Luckily, I take good notes, so all was not lost.

I only briefly discussed Apple and the iPhone with Lazaridis, but his comments on the subject are what stick out most in my mind.

"You wouldn't walk up to a professional photographer and ask him to do his job" with a throwaway camera, Lazaridis said. The man was instrumental in the development of the wireless technology that enabled the first BlackBerry and is a modern-day genius, but he proved to be remarkably shortsighted when it came to the iPhone.

In April of the following year, largely in response to Apple's iTunes App Store, BlackBerry launched its official app store, called BlackBerry World. I was in Las Vegas for a CTIA conference, where App World was announced. I posted my related story from some noisy bar in Caesar's Palace because the Internet in my room wasn't working and, for some reason, it was the only place I could get connectivity with my PC tethered to my BlackBerry. (Also: I like beer.)

The announcement was notable; it validated Apple's strategy and, for perhaps the first time, BlackBerry had followed Apple's lead. Unfortunately, developers didn't flock to the BlackBerry platform the way RIM hoped they would, and app selection remains a major problem for the company today.

A few months later, I wrote about RIM's awkward device naming conventions and why they hurt the company. I know RIM reps read the story, but unfortunately the company never acted on my advice, and until the recent release of the BlackBerry Z10, the company continued to use confusing, nonsensical naming conventions for its phones. (The names of its BlackBerry 10 devices are better, but the company's current Z10 to Z30 device-name progression doesn't make much sense. I asked BlackBerry about the jump from Z10 to Z30 - instead of, say, Z15 or Z20 - but didn't get any specifics.)

I had some fun with the BlackBerry CEOs a few months later when I published this "CEO Teardown: BlackBerry-Maker RIM's Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie." (The image on the fourth page still cracks me up.) Most references in that post are tongue-in-cheek, but I still believe BlackBerry's reluctance to bring in new leadership for so long was a significant factor in its fate.


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