We BlackBerrians are a funny lot. There really is no other brand of smartphone out there that elicits such passion. There’s something about the design, the way they feel, the OS, that makes you fall in love with them.
You see this with lapsed BlackBerrians too. They still appear on sites such as CrackBerry, but now they are like spurned lovers, desperate to prove that the lumpy old iPhone or soulless Android they have replaced their BlackBerry with is ‘better’.
But it’s not. However much they protest it really doesn’t make you FEEL like your BlackBerry did. And it’s a feeling that, deep down they crave, otherwise, why would they be there?
Here’s how it feels to come #BackToBlack courtesy of Julian Finn on Medium.com…
A Love Letter To BlackBerry: How I learned to stop worrying and love my phone.
Last night, at around 1030, my phone died. It had been a long day for the little fella; a few hours on Reddit, lots of Flipboard reading, a couple of hours of calls and half the day spent in a large building with crappy wireless service. And so, right as I was about to send a tweet, while watching the Better Call Saul premiere, my handset conked out. And I put it down.
And a few minutes later, I noticed that I’d picked it back up again, and was just rolling it over in my hands while I watched my show, fiddling with the keys.
That’s right, I said keys. I own a Blackberry. A Q10 to be exact.
This isn’t a review of my phone; there are a billion of those out there. Nor is it an argument for why you should switch to the platform. Rather, this is a love letter to the idea of Blackberry, to the notion of gadgets that are enjoyable to use, and how nostalgia can make you see old things in new light.
We’re surrounded by interactive glass in my house. Two iPads, an Android Tab, a couple of old smartphones the kids use for casual gaming, and two of our three laptops have touch screens. You can’t walk through my living room without banging your knee on a slab that you can watch YouTube or play Temple Run on. We read on them, watch videos on them, cast things to our TVs from them, they are our most used appliances. But I don’t enjoy using them. These devices consume a lot of my time in unenjoyable ways. Finding them (with two kids in the house things are rarely where you last left them) charging them, cleaning them, fixing them, downloading new apps, updating old ones; our gadgets take almost as much from us as they give.
I’m content to use these devices when they do what they’re supposed to, but I’m just as happy when I get to set them aside and play a game with my kids. This general sense of happy dissatisfaction has, in my case, resulted in the purchase of a LOT of devices. I’m never quite satisfied with whatever phone/tablet/phablet I’m wielding at any given moment, and so I’m constantly looking for something new to fill that hole. Bigger screen, faster processor, different button configuration, a better battery; something has to make that sense of ‘this isn’t quite right’ go away.
And so I’ve owned and used and loved and hated well over 100 touch screen devices in the last 6 years. I’ve had iPhones and iPads, just about every Android flagship since the Galaxy S II, Android tablets, Windows tablets, Windows Phones, a Playbook, convertible laptops, tablets with keyboards, and everything in between.
Anytime something new and “innovative” comes out, anything with a twist on the usual ‘X inches of glass with X processor speed and X GBs of RAM, I’ll read about it and convince myself that whatever the new innovation is, that this is finally the thing that will tick all my boxes. This will finally answer all my criticisms. This will be the one that stops my endless cycle of buy, resell, mope, and buy again.
It never is.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Once upon a time, when my beloved Motorola Razr finally died and I was finally ready to step up to a smartphone, I went out and bought a Blackberry Pearl and used it with love until the trackball fell off.
The Pearl was the first time I’d ever used the data capabilities of a phone. I’m pretty sure my Razr had Edge data enabled, but I never used it; it was a phone. I used it for phone calls and occasionally texts. The battery lasted for days. But the Pearl was something new. I used it for email, for texts, Facebook(!). It was the device I discovered Twitter and RSS feeds on.
If I had to pick a device that I loved unconditionally, the Pearl was it. It let me do all of the background stuff I used a computer for, portably, and added a couple of new hobbies to the mix. But, eventually, that trackball did fall off, and I was crushed. By that point, the Storm had been released (Blackberry’s half hearted attempt to address the fact that the iPhone was a thing people liked) and the company was floundering, trying to pick a competitive strategy in the market it had created but no longer understood.
I was young, and impressionable, and so I was ensnared by the lure of the iPhone and the Apple philosophy of what a smartphone should be. And my cycle of buy phone, find new things to do with it, read about upcoming update that will allow me to do more, wait impatiently for update, download on release day, bitch about how update has slowed down my phone, buy new phone that better utilizes new software, repeat, began. And it never really stopped.
Now, lest I come off as a crotchety old man who’s unappreciative of the advances that have come from the house that Apple built, I’ve got to say, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the gadget philosophy that has arisen over the last decade or so. There are some marvellous devices on the market today, and I’ve owned and liked quite a lot of them. But I always felt like I was looking for new things to do with these toys. None of them really had a built in use that distinguished them from any other, and so we built those uses through apps. Each shiny new slab of plastic/metal and glass was a literal blank slate of potential that we were left to find uses for.
And the manufacturers know this, and they feel like it’s a problem. This is why each manufacturer has started loading up their devices with new custom features; health trackers, heart rate monitors, better cameras, gaming chips etc. In trying to stand out, the OEMs have underscored the flaw in all this look alike glass; they aren’t devices for doing, they’re devices for consumption and, since what we consume isn’t provided by our device manufacturer but rather from all the apps we install, there’s no reason for a person to love, or even really like, a gadget. And so, outside of the Apple sound bubble, brand and device loyalty are hard to lock down.
Again, this isn’t a huge flaw, but it does pose a problem for tech firms; ‘If the piece of glass that I sell can run all the same stuff that the piece of glass the other guy sells can, how do I differentiate my piece of glass. And so we get the current spec war, which is great for consumers on the power and choice fronts, but wholly confusing and ultimately leading nowhere. Escalation for the sake of escalation and upgrading because I don’t want to be left behind.
Anyway, a couple of months ago my most recent slab of glass and plastic, a Lumia 1020, had a little screen accident and, even after I’d replaced the screen, it became really obvious that I’d mucked up the phone’s innards. I had just lost my job, so I couldn’t afford a new handset, and so I turned to the used market on Kijiji.
At the price point I could afford there weren’t really any appetizing choices in the Android or iOS camps; I’d either had the phones before and disliked/gotten bored by them, or they were too old and I knew I’d be frustrated by performance. And then I saw someone selling a BlackBerry Q10 for 150 bucks and I figured, why not?
I’d jumped back in the BlackBerry pond a couple of times over the last few years; there was a work issued Bold 9900 (it was okay, but the OS felt outdated) and brief stints with a Z10 and Z30 just to see how BB10 compared to the other OS offerings, but I hadn’t played at all with a keyboard based BlackBerry running OS 10.
And it’s wonderful.
I couldn’t quite pin down why at first. Sure the battery was great; it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to get over a day of charge on a smartphone. And BlackBerry OS 10 is in every way a modern operating system. It’s quick, organizes notifications in a really intuitive and useful way, and has dealt with the app gap with other platforms in a really innovative fashion, one that I hope Windows Phone adopts as well.
But it wasn’t those things. It was that I actually enjoyed picking up and touching the Q10. I liked using it. I’d forgotten, for example, how much I’d missed keyboard shortcuts. Such a simple thing, but so incredibly useful. I don’t know that I’m typing faster on a physical keyboard than I do on glass, but I’m definitely more accurate and, more importantly, I like typing on it. My friends don’t wait an hour to hear back from me when they text, I get back to them almost instantly, because I enjoy using my phone.
Since buying the Q10 I’ve watched a bunch of reviews just to see what the general consensus of the platform is and, while most reviewers won’t recommend it, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon; aside from the Apple die hards, people really seem to want to like these devices, especially the two new ones, the Passport and the Classic. There’s a kind of wistful look on the faces of pretty much any reviewer over the age of 30 when they describe using the keyboard and how the devices handle productivity tasks. And, while they’re listing the reasons that you shouldn’t buy one (primarily multimedia and gaming complaints) I find myself realizing that those are things that don’t really apply to me anymore.
I may be an outlier. I’m 36, I still use email a lot, I’m a console and occasional tablet gamer, but I’ve never really been a mobile gamer, not even when I was a kid and the Gameboy first made that possible and popular. I use my phone primarily to read, call people, text, edit documents and engage my social networks. I’ve never liked consuming video on a phone, although the kinds of videos I watch are just fine on Youtube on this or any other device, really.
Basically, I’m Blackberry’s ideal customer. Are there a lot out there like me? Who knows? But I understand that wistful look people get when they talk about these devices. It’s nostalgia. Once upon a time BlackBerry was an iconic brand. People who owned them loved them, and people who didn’t wanted one. The Pearl was wildly successful because it was a BlackBerry for the masses and the masses enjoyed using it. And I get that same feeling now.
Last night, running my thumb across the keys of my dead phone, I realized that I like my Q10 for the same reason I like my Fuji camera. I got rid of my SLR and switched to Fuji because I wanted a camera that gave me a tactile feedback when I took pictures, instead of diving through menus to set my exposure. Fuji created a line of cameras that appealed to that desire; lots of dials and buttons to control the device instead of the samey menus and touch panels that have permeated the industry the last few years. BlackBerry has become the same kind of product for me. It’s a phone for doing things on, rather than finding things to do with.
It’s a device that I’m happy to use, rather than eager to upgrade. It does everything I want it to well, and doesn’t beg me to play with it. And it eliminates that constant want that so drove me to read tech blog after tech blog hunting the next best thing.
If I have one quibble about the Q10 it’s the screen size. It’s not quite big enough for all the reading I like to do. So, sometime in the next few months, I’ll scrape together enough to buy either a Passport or a Classic. And then I’m done. I’ll use that phone until it dies and then I’ll buy a new one. Because, whether it’s nostalgia, or utility, or just pure enjoyment, BlackBerry now makes phones that speak to what I need these devices to do.
I hope there are enough people like me out there to keep this company afloat. I hope I get to enjoy this experience until we’re all implanting 17th generation iPhones into our iBalls at birth. But I’m glad that, for now at least, I get to hop off the smartphone buying train and just enjoy my new toy.
I, like you, know exactly how Julian feels. When I got my Z10 I would find myself idly swiping on it with my thumb – for no reason at all. It just felt good. And as I sit here, there’s a Q10 just to my left. I don’t use it anymore since I got my Passport but it’s one damn fine looking phone. It just demands to be picked up, held and used. As does my Z30, with it’s glass weave back…
Come on guys – whatever you’re holding right now you KNOW it’s not a BlackBerry, however much you try you can’t love it the same.
Time to stop looking.
Time to get that feeling back.
Time to get a BlackBerry.