Watters: BlackBerry needs more than a name change to recapture former glory


Arabella Watters, Columnist

When you hear the word “blackberry,” what do you think of? Twenty years ago, it was the fruit. Ten years ago, people would have answered with a smartphone at the peak of its popularity. Now, ask the same group of people, and they associate the word with a dead brand, an irrelevant product and a phone that has inherently lost its “cool factor” in every sense of the word.

That’s why it struck me as a move entirely lacking in strategy for Research in Motion to rebrand their company with the new corporate name BlackBerry. To me, BlackBerry connotes exactly the legacy RIM is hoping to escape: a brand of smart phones that once dominated and then surreptitiously fell from grace. This decline took the form of a stock price that fell from a high of $145 to a dismal estimated $15.

Although along with the rebranding comes a new BlackBerry 10 operating system and the Z10 phone. I can’t really wrap my head around why RIM would have thought it was a good idea to rebrand itself with the name of the phone that contributed to its downfall. It is an entirely reactionary move and one that only highlights their lack of insight on their own market. RIM should have branded itself as BlackBerry when the phones were hot commodities, not when they carry no clout whatsoever.

I remember the day I got my first smartphone. I was a senior in high school, and my history with phones had been shoddy at best: a Nokia I painted polka dotted with nail polish in the fifth grade, a hot pink knockoff Razr, a sliding phone with the most horrific touch screen known to man and the super nifty LG Chocolate in the eighth grade all met their untimely ends in my clearly not-so-capable fingers, so I don’t blame my parents for waiting until I was the “responsible” age of eighteen to bestow upon me what, at the time, was the hottest of the new trend in smart phones.

Everyone had one, and I instantly gained street cred when I got a BlackBerry. It had everything, BBM (that’s BlackBerry Messaging for anyone not in the loop), email, the ability to connect to the Internet at a glacial speed and a full keypad that, at the time, I imagined that I looked like a real cool kid using.

Fast forward not even three short years since I got my BlackBerry, and the idea of BlackBerrys being equated with anything other than technological irrelevancy is laughable. Three years ago it seemed like you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting someone hunched over what were affectionately deemed “crackberries” for their highly addictive properties. I made the switch to the iPhone in October — and I was one of the last holdouts, frequently reminded by my friends to enter into the 21st century.

I think I know one person who still uses their BlackBerry Curve, and that’s not just my perception. In 2009, RIM owned 44 percent of the domestic smartphone market. Now, that market share is down to 8.4 percent, a statistic that means, basically, BlackBerrys have been eradicated from the smartphone market.

Interestingly enough, with the rebrand two weeks ago, shares in the company gained 15 percent, a jump that I attribute to simply the novelty of the new name and the possibility of more. Possibility is the operative word here, because I don’t believe that BlackBerry can dig itself out of the deep, socially irrelevant hole it’s gotten itself into.

Maybe in six months I’ll be eating my words, but I believe that in the technology world products move on an entirely linear scale. The idea of a cyclical product in which clout phases in and out is unheard of. When was the last time you heard someone saying they really wanted the iPhone 2 or an Android phone from 2010? There isn’t really any going backwards, and in my opinion, once you’re done, you’re done.

Arabella Watters is a Medill sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].