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Why BlackBerry?s departure from smartphone production means little to mobile marketers

Two years shy of the twentieth anniversary of its first smartphone, BlackBerry is shutting down development of all production and hardware, although experts claim this news offers little relevancy for marketers in the mobile space.

Instead, the company will focus on software and outsource hardware development to other firms such as Alcatel who developed BlackBerry?s most recent phone model. While BlackBerry may have introduced the world to Internet-connected mobile phones, the company has been far from relevant in the last few years during mobile?s explosion in popularity.

"I just checked again and I'm still waiting for a Web page to buffer on my BlackBerry,? said Jeff Hasen, founder of Gotta Mobilize and author of The Art of Mobile Persuasion.

?I made the request in 2006. Seriously, BlackBerry has been a non-factor in U.S. marketing for years.?

The BlackBerry phenomenon
The early BlackBerry smartphones appear painfully primitive to us now, but at the time they were a vision of the future. When most phones were little more than portable landlines that cost a lot and had limited functionality, BlackBerry was one of the first to embrace the possibilities provided by having what is essentially a small computer nearby at all times.

From the early days of simple Web browsing, email mobile faxing, BlackBerry phones emerged as a revelation for the on-the-go business minded individuals of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The devices, such as the Quark or the Curve, were so popular that they soon earned the nickname ?Crackberries? for the addictive way its users would check them constantly, a prophetic trend that foreshadowed consumers? current, near-constant dependence on smartphones.

In 2008, a year after the iPhone came out, BlackBerry controlled 50 percent of the market share in the U.S. For comparison, in February of this year, the Apple iPhone accounted for 40 percent U.S. market share, according to Parks Associates.

Since then, BlackBerry has been in steady decline. The current U.S. market share for the Canadian manufacturer is less than one percent.

So how did the herald of the smartphone age fall so far behind? In part, it was due to the company?s unwillingness to modernize its operating systems.

End of an era
While other smartphone manufacturers, mainly Apple, focused on lightweight applications that could be produced by third-party developers, BlackBerry refused to innovate.

Apple?s relatively open software allowed for much easier integration of advertising, as well as a better user experience. BlackBerry relied on the clunkier SMS-style of advertising, leaving it wanting in terms of marketing potential.

BlackBerry did not attempt a modern-styled smartphone model until 2013, giving Apple a six-year head start in perfecting the mobile standard.

In recent years, BlackBerry has made an attempt to catch up to other smartphone manufacturers by producing Android devices like the BlackBerry Priv, rebranding devices from other manufacturers like its newest DTEK 50 and introducing throwback devices like the BlackBerry Classic.

Ultimately, it all proved too little too late.

?BlackBerry was so slow to improve the experience that consumers and marketers moved on,? Mr. Hasen said. 

The sentiment was echoed by analysts from Forrester and 451 Research, who told Mobile Marketer that BlackBerry has been irrelevant to marketers for years.

BlackBerry is not completely gone yet, however. The company will continue to focus on software development, such as BlackBerry Hub, a collection of Android productivity apps.

BlackBerry also continues to find traction in developing areas of the world, where high-end smartphone penetration is still relatively low.

?BlackBerry has been a factor more recently in other parts of the world,? Mr. Hasen said. ?When I went to South Africa, I saw marketers carrying two BlackBerrys - one for work and one for personal use.

?It provided a great lesson on our need to understand the specific audience that we as marketers are looking to reach. The rest of the experience is best forgotten."