BlackBerry’s old school cell phones with physical keyboards from the late 1990s and early 2000s were once so popular people nicknamed them “CrackBerries.” The keyboard appealed to professionals who wanted the flexibility of working outside the office with some of the tools they used on a desktop computer.
The devices became a status symbol and fixture for people on Wall Street, celebrities like Kim Kardashian, and even former President Barack Obama, thanks in part to its great reputation for security. At its peak in 2012, BlackBerry had more than 80 million active users.
The company got its start in 1996 as Research In Motion with what it called two-way pagers. Its first gadget, the “Inter@ctive Pager,” allowed customers to respond to pages with a physical keyboard, a kind of text messaging/email hybrid. Three years later, RIM introduced the BlackBerry name with the BlackBerry 850.
Eventually, BlackBerry phones gained support for email, apps, web browsing and BBM, an encrypted text messaging platform that predated WhatsApp and survived long after BlackBerry was surpassed by its rivals.
But Apple’s touchscreen revolution with the iPhone in 2007 made BlackBerry’s offerings appear lacking. It tried touch screens and slide-out keyboard models, with little success. It developed a few phones with no physical keyboard, but those were missing BlackBerry’s key differentiator: its tactile keyboard.
BlackBerry eventually gave up on its own software, embracing Android and layering its security software on top. It found some success in enterprise security software and automotive software.