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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.

It was in 2011 that all the doom-and-gloom stories really started surrounding BlackBerry. Even then, I kept the faith. (Read "7 Solid Reasons to Keep the Faith in RIM, BlackBerry," and then check out the comments for a look at some reader perspective.) But I admit, I was worried even then, and the release of a poorly-thought out subscription music service was a harbinger of more half-baked projects to come. (The day BBM Music was officially released, I predicted its demise. It took longer than I expected - nearly two years - but BlackBerry shuttered the service in August 2013.)

Right around that time, BlackBerry's Developer Relations Director, Mike Kirkup, told me in the dimly-lit basement of New York City's Ace Hotel why he remained faithful to BlackBerry...and then resigned less than a month later. Kirkup seemed sincere when I spoke with him. I did not see his departure coming.

In October 2011, BlackBerry hired a brand new development chief, Alec Saunders. I interviewed him about how he'd attract developers to the BlackBerry platform and do away with the troubling perception that BlackBerry couldn't compete with Android or iOS when it came to apps. I admired Saunders's energy and charisma - which came through during the keynote address for the 2012 BlackBerry Jam conference in San Jose, where I sat along with the rest of the attendees and watched a bizarre music video starting Saunders.

Despite Saunders's enthusiasm, he didn't really tell me anything I hadn't heard from other BlackBerry staffers many times before. "BlackBerry 10 is good; BlackBerry 10 is great; BlackBerry 10 is the solution." Yada yada yada.

Shortly thereafter, I wrote a post detailing why 2012 was sure to be a tough one for BlackBerry, which was rapidly losing users' confidence, both in and outside the enterprise. In reality, 2012 was worse for BlackBerry than I expected.

That summer, I got my second interview with a BlackBerry CEO. This time, it didn't take as long for the company to grant my interview request; Thorsten Heins, who took over the CEO role in January 2012, was planning to speak to a number of media outlets, presumably as damage control. Luckily, I was one of the first.

I remember hanging up after my lengthy interview with Heins, thinking that BlackBerry might actually have a chance after all. Heins was candid; he didn't ignore the company's problems or act like nothing was wrong, and he seemed to be genuinely confident in the new BlackBerry 10 OS. (I also remember thinking his German accent made the world "innovative," which he said frequently, sound particularly amusing. But given the circumstances, innovation - or the lack of it - wasn't a laughing matter at all at BlackBerry.)


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