Rumors of RIM’s death…

November 4, 2011
…would be greatly misspelled, ungrammatical and take five times as long to send on an iPhone
By Maureen Tkacik
The opinions expressed are her own.
Possessing an ancient affliction known as “shame” I generally try to avoid brandishing opinions in the arena of “investment advice”, as hilarious as that would be. But a few weeks ago I nearly broke this rule when the PE ratio of a company whose products I actually use dipped below my height in feet (5.5.) “There’s gotta be a price for everything,” I figure; and I like to think that even I, were I a publicly traded security, would have levels at which I’d be a “Buy.”
Well, four weeks after my editors wisely ignored that column, the PE ratio of the stock in question now looks like it could hit 3.14159.

Moral: if I were a stock, I’d be Research In Motion. And me giving out stock tips is like BlackBerry trying to recommend new bands. As someone who fantasizes daily about bartending, retail, law school, hackccess journalism, and pretty much every other plausible paycheck alternative with the exception of teaching kids, I can totally sympathize with the impulse here. But ultimately these alternate realities don’t really play to any of my strengths, whereas wasting time thinking about them plays right into the hands of my epic self-loathing. (A self-destructive cycle RIM seems to be experiencing right now.)

Which is why I feel compelled to step in right now and tell RIM to get a hold of itself. RIM didn’t bounce three checks last week; RIM still has a job to do and millions of users depending on it. What the market seems to assume is an existential breakdown is actually not much worse than the maddening spiral of despair I experience…every time I lose my phone and attempt to communicate using someone else’s iPhone.

Now, sure, the iPhone is a huge step up from the days of typing 4-4-pause-33-pause-999 just to get “hey”…that defined the pre-smartphone mobile text experience for most iPhone lovers I know. So yes, to be fair, it sucked even more having to borrow a phone three or four years ago. Because at least now you can check email, except you can’t. Not without abandoning any pretense of basic literacy, and suppressing the urge to crack the thing against the skull holding your apparently obsolete brain in the process of mustering a pathetic pseudosentence or two.

It gets easier, I am told. I don’t care, and I know there are gainfully employed people who share my views on this. I’ve had a BlackBerry for ten years, and it’s not because of the deranged misplaced sentimentality I harbor toward the “brand” you find in Apple cultists. It’s because it was never even remotely difficult to type a complete sentence on one.

This may be merely a historical accident. When the BlackBerry was born in 1999, the sentence was still the bedrock of written communication, and email was dominated by white collar professionals justifying their salaries, overcompensating college kids trying to impress their classmates, and v1agra spam. So when the time came to liberate this revolutionary new mode of communication from the shackles of the nation’s offices and computer labs, the little Canadian startup leading the way probably did not think too hard about making “ease of typing full sentences” a top priority.

A semi-rigorous scan of the RIM news archives yields no evidence of a “Eureka moment” myth chronicling the magical thing that inspired the company’s founders to equip their prototype with…a QWERTY keyboard, of all things. (The company does refute a persistent “rumor” that the BlackBerry name is meant to reference the trademark miniature keypad with the explanation that it merely “tested well” with focus groups.) In any event, the keyboard was a hit. And in a textbook viral marketing for dummies move borrowed from Hotmail, RIM added “Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld” to the signature of every message sent, which had the effect of deeply impressing anyone on the receiving end of say, a thoughtful 600-word missive of the complexity and accuracy he or she would have theretofore assumed to have required the services of a full-sized word processing device.

Now the reverse phenomenon prevails: nearly everyone changes the “Sent from my iPhone” tagline to apologize preemptively for “any typos, misspellings and/or general inanity” his technological handicap has prevented him from efficiently correcting. Funny how no one ever did that with a RIM device?

Touchscreens are inherently infantilizing, forcing users to simulate the act of fingerpainting in order to achieve anything. If the human finger were a state-of-the-art precision instrument, humans wouldn’t have bothered inventing pencils, knives, QWERTY keyboards, and in lieu of those, limitless varieties of bulky shells to protect their freaking sensitive touchscreen devices from falling victim to another false move of someone’s clumsy human hand. Touchscreens make sense for ATM machines and those self-operated cash registers that are busy destroying all the last bastions of employment in this country, but otherwise they are ridiculous.

Nevertheless the late Steve Jobs, who harbored a pathological affinity for minimalist design (along with a general disregard for competent prose), loved touchscreens and spent nearly two decades attempting to deploy them in the service of some transformational new device before he finally hit the jackpot with the iPhone. Why? God knows, maybe he had never learned to type properly, maybe he was just thinking different, whatever. It’s great business from a branding perspective, because “infantilized” is where any decent technology marketer wants you to be; humbled and awestruck by innovations you never knew you needed, blah blah blah. But when it comes to language—the defining innovation and hallmark competitive advantage of the human species for most of its existence—the company’s product line demonstrates little humility of its own.The BlackBerry was never like that. When it first came along it seemed like an inevitability that had arrived a few years early; today it’s a necessity that seems a bit behind the times. My current model, the Bold 9700, is the first I’ve actually liked more than my very first 850; it took nearly a decade of tweaks to satisfactorily fuse with a mobile phone. But like most users I endured the generation of models with screens so fragile I swear I had one crack spontaneously while I was reading an email and adjusted to the functional asceticism of the era of the Pearl, a much more durable model that squeezed the keyboard onto half the buttons of the original to more convincingly conform to a proper “little black phone” silhouette. None of those phones were much to write home about (so to speak) but I bought them over and over and over and over (repeat approx 24x; I tend to lose phones every few months) because otherwise I couldn’t write anything at all. 

Did I mention I loathe touchscreens? Well it took awhile, but late last year the late Steve Jobs finally threw a bone to my people with the second-generation, debugged MacBook Air. What really makes RIM’s core customer base salivate is the MacBook Air. I know this, because whenever I use mine in public strange men who reek of membership in the Top 1% approach me in a semi-hypnotic state, invariably confessing regret for having bought an iPad instead. It seemed like the thing to do at the time, their faces tell you. But there’s more to life than Angry Birds…

Another longstanding component of the BlackBerry appeal is its ability to ease the physical strain of professional life by enabling users to communicate in upright, professional sentences from the bath, the fetal position, and the full assortment of undignified physical positions workaholics pursue in leisure. New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger this week bragged (smarmily) that the iPad had enabled the newspaper to “literally get into bed with the audience,” which is fair enough, but what about the audience’s audience? For a Times reader to communicate competently with whoever he needs to communicate to attain the famous standards of affluence that sell ads in the Times, he either has to get out of bed, or use his BlackBerry.

At the moment RIM seems like a thoroughly dysfunctional company staffed with many bright people who understand all these things and dim people who boss the bright people around. But the founders are still in charge, and the core product is still the preference of millions of people like myself, people who value “commitment, consistency and communication skills” infinitely higher than “superficial infatuation” on their list of priorities when it comes to choosing consumer electronics. Perhaps my consumer psychographic is nearing extinction, but we’re pretty goddamned pessimistic people, and even we don’t think so yet.


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Very well versed article. I personally haven’t owned a black berry yet, nor have I had an iphone,, I am a proud owner of the ipod touch though, and the fact that it has pretty much all the settings an iphone has is pretty good. I’d also like to add that sometimes you just need to get used to the typing methods,, the touch screen isn’t all that hard to use, and when typing the auto-correct function is very helpful in avoiding typing errors and even sometimes correcting your grammar for you!! iPods>iPhones~blackberrys

Posted by redperson123 | Report as abusive

Great Article, great writer, great prose.

I do share alot of your sentiments. I have never owned a piece of apple merchandise nor have I shed any sympathy for their underdog status.

It’s not because I like blackberry (I think the CEOS are baffoons for not cutting their salaries). I’m just a 24 year old technological native adult who craves the simplistic allure of the bb phone (especially the debugged storm).

I hope the Canadian company can keep fighting but in this age of progressive technology, people want a new toy every day and blackberry just isn’t that anymore. Slick design, secure messaging, and QWERTY defined the smartphone but its dust in the wind.

Superficial infatuation,infantilizing, bedazzled; call it what you want. I still feel like I’m driving a BMW when I’m texting my brother to see if he has my pipe.

Great article, again.

Posted by LiLViPa | Report as abusive

Blackberry vs. iPhone? I don’t use either, so I can’t make an informed comment there. My impression is the U.S. markets are experiencing what Europe had with mobile telephony a decade ago. Perhaps the same business models that succeeded over there will work over here (if they haven’t already).

Posted by Brian1920x1080 | Report as abusive

Wow. The RIM marketing dept needs to hire you. You’ve got me tempted. I tried a smartphone for a while and hated it. (Too hard to type.)

Posted by bruce1963 | Report as abusive

Nice article. Well balanced and fair, a rare event in the media when RIM is discussed. I liked your “meat and potatoes” view of smartphones and your description of over-compensating iPhone owners.

Again, good article.

Posted by echotango | Report as abusive

Words so true, typed so well.

Posted by jwood_34 | Report as abusive

That was well typed. I think texting, especially twitter is turning us into a nation of morons no longer able to understand or express complicated thoughts.

Posted by gelatoqueen | Report as abusive

“Touchscreens are inherently infantilizing, forcing users to simulate the act of fingerpainting in order to achieve anything.”

Does someone actually think this is true in the year 2011? After every mobile manufacturer in the world – including the eulogized [sic] RIM – has fallen over themselves to copy the iPhone?

Within a few years you won’t be able to buy a mobile device with a physical keyboard. All of the major OS platforms for mobile are touch-driven now, RIM is the sole holdout and their mindshare (and market share) is obviously headed for the floor. The writer should be charting AAPL instead and honing her touchscreen typing skills. Or, try to stop losing phones every few months because you’ll want to hold on to that outdated Blackberry for as long as you can.

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive

People used to depend on kerosene lamps and the horse and buggy as well…

Posted by gaucho71 | Report as abusive

Voice to text is clearly the future. Now, people might actually have to speak well. Is RIMM looking, or have they introduced a voice to text program??

Posted by gaucho71 | Report as abusive

Oh, how I wish I had your writing flow when I tried to defend myself against the anti-BB users! I COMPLETELY agree that the only thing holding me back is that the Blackberry (when functional) is PRACTICAL! And quite frankly, that’s all I ask for in my phone…I don’t need glitter, fireworks and a phone that can convert into almost anything but the actual use of calls, e-mails and web surfing. I love that I can type correct sentences lightening fast in an e-mail on the blaze of my bus ride home and that I can multi-task efficiently without the distraction of an angry bird or fruit ninja. I mean, if the BB had Siri…I think we’d be all set. Bottomline, your article is very on point (and I agree with the prior comment that RIM needs to hire you for a new marketing campaign).

Posted by kathybootsri | Report as abusive

Texters et al think this rambling concoction of grammar soup is ‘great prose’? I guess it is, compared to the mindless drivel found on most Blackberry screens. Oh hell, we are doomed. We can only hope the world will implode before Maureen and her friends get a chance to take the reins.

Posted by NukerDoggie | Report as abusive

Are you telling me that a declining stock (business) is worth anything? The future is grey. Today in the worldwide economic environment no one having one product can survive. This is going to be Research in Motion venture end.

Posted by brrrrrr0612 | Report as abusive

I own a smartphone with a touchscreen, and I would not want to do a lot of typing with that. But there are alternatives in the Android world that do include a touchscreen, and are every bit as capable of rapid text entry as a BB. My daughter uses one.

The BB got popular because it provided secure email, not just for the keyboard.

And yes, I do think RIM is toast. Any decent Android phone can use SSL to secure email these days. Their lack of attention to the tablet world, plus innovative changes by the competition, have very likely doomed their proprietary transmission system.

Posted by stevedebi | Report as abusive

Endless rumors of RIM imminent death come mainly from America, a land suffering historical economic contraction and psychological death spiral. And a land obsessed with all things Apple.

Elsewhere around the world, and look no further than RIM home country, people are more stable and more real. Indeed, RIM marketshare in the US, never that large, has declined. When Apple can sell 100 million phones & pads in the US in one year, to a population already drown in debt, well, one has to submit to Apple’s hold on the worshiping followers.

RIM has made mistakes on the tablet, but not on the BB. RIM is developing a whole new generation of BB from the ground up, employing breakthrough technologies. RIM has made it clear that it’s BB is not in the gadget game. They are business & professional tools first, while the lower end of the line can compete with the rest of the gadget market.

Is RIM going down the tube as popular sensational media like to tout? Well, let’s check the fact:
– RIM revenue is such that it makes a cool $1B profit every quarter.
– It has 70 million customers worldwide, 25 million of which are business enterprise.
– BB is the de facto standard in Europe, Canada, S America, and regarded as the premium device in Asia & India.
– No other smart phone maker in the world offers what RIM offers with every phone – a customized, private, secured mail/messaging delivery network.
– As to the ‘certain’ demise of the keyboard, you mostly hear that kind of brainwashed nonsense from America herd consumers. Travel around the world and it become self-evident that a keyboard is essential to handle all the languages, taste and hand typing customs of the world’s human complexity. Indeed, it is smart to make the keyboard even bigger and better with more keys. Have you seen Motorola XT860 4G? It features a bigger and better keyboard, for a premium price. I used it and it is absolutely a pleasure. Now do you think the designers at Motorola a bunch of dummies?

Below is a link to a security professional analysis of RIM recent network trouble plus some facts on the company’s considerable strengths: -more-few-blackberry-outages-kill-rim

Posted by TomKi | Report as abusive

I love this article, intellectually funny to a degree not often encountered on the Net. Keep up the good work.

I’m afraid I will have to disagree re RIM’s viability as an investment, except for shorting.

I’m an iPhone user and really like the fact that the device can do so much more than just phone, text and surf. And I don’t mean Angry Birds. Sure, the keyboard doesn’t give me – and I’m a lawyer and so write A LOT everyday – any type (sorry) of satisfaction. Turning on the blop-blop sound to mark hitting the keys assists a great deal and makes me miss a hardware keyboard a little less.

But the main problem with the iPhone’s text input isn’t the keyboard; it’s the auto-correct which virtually never works, particularly if one habitually uses more than one language in communication. That totally, absolutely and, for being an Apple product, incredibly sucks. I am amazed Apple hasn’t managed to find a workable solution, not only to enable simultaneous use of several languages but even such a simple thing as making iOS remember the words one doesn’t want to have corrected and the changes one has made to the dictionary.

Still, typing without auto-correction on a screen keyboard beats having such a keyboard on a Blackberry because of all the other things the iPhone offers.

Honestly, there really is no competition and RIM has completely – whatever one may think of the technology as such – missed the touchscreen train. Consumers these days want touchscreens on phones. It is that simple. Whatever their executives are paid is too much.

I do, however, agree wholeheartedly with your observation about the Macbook Air. I have many friends who have iPads and who even made the incomprehensible move to upgrade from version 1 to version 2. There are no two ways about it – the iPad is nothing but an overhyped, tripple-sized iPhone with less functionality. It’s amazing how many people have bought it. When I fly I often see people watching movies on iPads and then pull out a PC (or more rarely an Apple) laptop to work on. Marketing and hype make people do unbelievably weird things.

Posted by philipdygeus | Report as abusive

“Well balanced and fair?!” That is like saying the opinions about an Acura from a person that has driven nothing but GM cars is “fair and balanced.”

I’d like to ask TomKi how a fixed keyboard BB meets the “essential” capability of handling all the languages, tastes.. blah-blah of the world. You might want to take a look an the Settings on an iPhone.

A smart phone is not meant for writing novels, if you can’t reply to emails (on the go) using a touch screen perhaps you should seek a different line of work and not be underemployed.

Quoting Dirty Harry, “Well, opinions are like …. Everybody has one.”

Posted by wthcares | Report as abusive

Great piece. I’d share my BlackBerry PIN with you, but my wife might get jealous. [Does anyone really use the BB PIN system anymore?]

Consider this: with respect to text entry, the use of discrete character keys is truly digital (a single input = desired output), while the iPhone’s auto-correction typing is at best inexact “analog”. There’s a reason why a web site “” exists.

RIM will hopefully emphasize and expand the Tool versus Toy attributes of its BlackBerry devices as means toward continued success.

Posted by mastrand9 | Report as abusive

This statement of digital vs analog makes no sense. The iPad/iPhone will only enter the characters that you type. There is no “noise” in the system to make it analog.

If you make mistakes on your touchscreen you need to work on your technique or type more slowly, just like people did when they learned to type on those giant desktop keyboards, remember those?

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive