Losing The Signal

I recently purchased a new smartphone. My old one had reached the end of its usefulness, needing to be recharged two or three times daily. It was three years old after all, and calculating the age of mobile phones is like using dog years – there is a seven to one ratio.

Three years ago what I really wanted was a BlackBerry. I had used one at work and was eagerly looking forward to the next generation Q10 model. I didn’t get it. I settled for a BlackBerry Torch. The Q10 was delayed and I didn’t want to wait the three months (or more) with no phone. I knew that didn’t bode well for BlackBerry – technology moves so quickly these days that missing deadlines is a kiss of death. The Q10 took even longer than expected to put in an appearance, which would have meant even longer with no phone, which is a major inconvenience in our society these days.

Three years later, the battery life on my Torch had deteriorated to the point that I had to re-charge it in the middle of the day, meaning I should consider a new phone. I opted for the successor to the Q10, the BlackBerry Classic.

I could get a different phone of course, an Apple or Android device, but I have a profound dislike of touch screen technology. I know the BlackBerry doesn’t have all the apps that other devices have, but I don’t really care. I am not looking for a toy but a tool. It seems only BlackBerry offers a smartphone with a physical keyboard.1443436186

My mobile phone experience mirrors the BlackBerry story, told in the book Losing the Signal by Globe and Mail reporters Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff. BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) is both Canadian success story and cautionary tale. A business that struggled at first, experienced meteoric growth and is now struggling again to regain its pre-eminence.

Losing The Signal is an engaging tale. Blackberry’s Jim Balsilie has been a larger than life figure in Canadian business for the past decade. I’m not sure I would like him. So too with Mike Lazaridis, the technical brains behind Balsilie’s marketing savvy.

If I were to quibble I would say this book feels too much like an extended newspaper article. There is lots of information, hundreds of names, but it doesn’t seem like there is an overarching vision. Too much detail and not enough analysis perhaps. I had the feeling I had read the story before, just not in book form.

I did gain better insight into BlackBerry’s initial success, and an even better understanding of how the company went off the rails, failing to recognize that the future of the smartphone, a product BlackBerry invented, lay with mass market consumers and not business. Simple business choices, seemingly right at the time, with negative long-term results.

Even though much of the tale was familiar to me, as a BlackBerry fan I found it to be an intriguing read. The jury is still out on whether BlackBerry will be able to rebound. I certainly hope it does. Otherwise, the next time I need a new phone, I’m going to have to convert to touch screen technology – and I really don’t want to have to do that.


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