Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Going nowhere: The BlackBerry Curve (2007 to 2012)

BlackBerry Curve 8300 (2007) and 9320 (2012)
Launched ten years ago this month, the original BlackBerry Curve was RIM's attempt to make their classic BlackBerry messaging smartphone more appealing to consumers. The Curve 8300 had the classic physical keyboard of all BlackBerry devices up to that point, and it added a camera (which was a rare feature on BlackBerry devices at that point) and had a media player with a standard 3.5mm jack plug.

BlackBerry's push email service for both businesses and consumers was second to none, and if you wanted to do messaging on the move then this was definitely the device to have. The 2.5" 320 x 230 pixel display was incredibly bright and clear compared to the competition, and although it wasn't a touchscreen it did have a little trackball underneath to navigate with. Crucially the Curve 8300 lacked 3G, WiFi or GPS at a time these features were becoming common. However, despite some limitations the Curve 8300 was a big success for RIM and it sold in large numbers.

Following on from the Curve 8300 were a variety of other models, adding WiFi, GPS and eventually 3G data. Although early versions sold well, increasingly it became difficult for BlackBerry to compete with all-touch devices such as the iPhone and Android smartphones.

Almost exactly five years after launching the original Curve, RIM announced the final device in the Curve line, the 9320. Shockingly, despite five years of development, the Curve 9320 had hardly evolved at all from the 8300. The physical keyboard remained, the screen was the same size, the camera a little better, the trackball had been replaced by a more reliable trackpad, it was faster and had more memory and could finally support WiFi, 3.5G and GPS.. but it certainly wasn't an iPhone-killer.

Worse still, the BlackBerry 7.1 OS included in the 9320 was fundamentally the same as the 4.5 OS included in the 8300 with some cosmetic changes. And although the Curve 9320 retained the excellent email capabilities of all BlackBerry handhelds, consumers had moved on and were more interested in things like web browsing.. and web browsing on the Curve 9320 was a very unpleasant experience. By 2012 both the iOS and Android platforms were destroying BlackBerry when it came to quality apps too.

In five years, RIM had essentially gone nowhere. It wasn't just the Curve either, but the entire BlackBerry product range was out of date. But conversely, a hard core of businesses and fans still went out and bought these devices, but it couldn't stem the collapse in sales. Even today, the BlackBerry 9320 still sells to people who are wedded to the platform.

To be fair, RIM realised that they were in a predicament but the next-gen BlackBerry devices that they needed were subject of boardroom battles that had crippled the company. The disastrous launch of the Z10 in 2013 is a story for another time though.

Image credits: Research in Motion / BlackBerry

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