Losing The Signal

Losing The SignalWe often end up thinking we know the stories behind major and/or tumultuous events that happen during our own lifetimes. One of those revolves around the story of Blackberry. The rise of the iPhone is often thought of as the big downfall of Blackberry, the once wildly popular Canadian phone manufacturer from Waterloo, Ontario. Indeed, the iPhone was involved in Blackberry’s problems, but not in the way people commonly think it was.

I recently listened to the unabridged version of the Audible audiobook “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry” written by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff. The book tells the story of the seemingly overnight rise of the popularity of Blackberry devices, and recounts the often fascinating step by step details of its spectacular fall into relative smartphone obscurity.

For example, were you aware that Blackberry had two CEO’s? Not one, but two. This highly unusual two CEO arrangement may have served Blackberry well at certain times in the beginning, each CEO having his own respective strengths, but in the end it is generally agreed that this odd two CEO arrangement caused inevitable confusion and dangerous, very damaging paralysis as their personal relationship with each other dangerously deteriorated.

I take from this book that Blackberry happened to come along with the right thing at the right time – a device that could reliably and securely put email in the smartphone user’s pockets on early networks. Blackberry was driven to success by sheer market demand for their product, in spite of their missteps. Blackberry’s success was due in part to the fact that because of the way its system was constructed, it could reliably and securely handle email on highly bandwidth-starved networks. Its popularity started as a business device, and ended up with major consumer crossover demand.

A better idea came along – Steve Job’s iPhone. The iPhone essentially put an entire shrunken computer in the user’s pocket, and started a revolution that changed the face of the market itself. Even so, the iPhone didn’t inflict the most damage on Blackberry, but rather the iPhone concept.

The iPhone reached about 25% overall market penetration in developed markets when at the same time Blackberry was able to sell its less-expensive units into price-sensitive world markets that could not afford the high price of the iPhone. In essence, Blackberry was able to keep going even after the iPhone’s obvious success by replicating its early developed-market successes elsewhere in the world.

What inflicted the most damage on Blackberry sales was the incredible spreading dominance and popularity of Android, which could sell cheaper Android-based smartphones into Blackberry’s price-sensitive world markets, thus ultimately rendering Blackberry irrelevant.

Along the way, Blackberry made a couple of serious, self-inflicted missteps with Verizon that it never recovered from. Blackberry, which had been known at one time for rock-solid hardware, realizing it was losing market share, foolishly started selling faulty products into the marketplace that clearly weren’t fully developed and were highly unreliable.

If you enjoy these kinds of non-fiction books that tell behind-the-scenes stories of things that happened in your lifetime, I highly recommend you give this book a try.