The end of the line has finally come for a lot of the old reliable BlackBerry smartphones still out there.
The Waterloo, Ont.-based company has officially pulled the plug on the software and infrastructure that powers its legacy smartphones and handheld devices — which means they will stop working today.
Devices running on the BB10 or BlackBerry OS platform “will no longer reliably function, including for data, phone calls, SMS and 911 calls,” the company says. Internet access via a Wi-Fi connection will also cease service, which means today is the end of the line for the devices that ushered in the era of smartphones before being left behind by iPhones and Google-powered Android devices more than a decade ago.
“We have been holding off on decommissioning the BlackBerry service out of loyalty to our customers for a long time,” CEO John Chen said in a blog post published today. “So, it stirs mixed emotions today, as I write this … telling you that era has finally come to a close.”
At its peak, there were hundreds of millions of BlackBerrys in operation around the world, and they were a trendy accessory for celebrities and other power brokers. U.S. president Barack Obama insisted on being able to still use his when he was inaugurated in 2009.
More than half a decade later, in 2016, Kim Kardashian mourned the death of hers. But that same year, fewer than a million BlackBerrys were sold, down from a peak of 50 million smartphones sold in 2011. By 2017, BlackBerry stopped making the devices, as the number of sales dipped to below 100,000 — a stark contrast to the 200 million iPhones Apple sold that year.
It is not clear how many users would be directly affected by today’s news. CBC News asked the company how many legacy BlackBerrys were still active around the world in 2021, but did not hear back by publication time.
“It’s sad to see those older devices go, but it’s not unexpected,” said Dave Mason, a longtime BlackBerry user in Didsbury, Alta., who has owned a half-dozen BlackBerrys over the years.
“There’s only so much they can put into it time-wise, security-wise because everyone is either using Android or Apple devices.”
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As of now, any BlackBerry-made phones and tablets — including once-familiar names like the Classic, the Pearl, the Leap, the Bold and the Playbook — will no longer be able to do the tasks they were designed to do. “While some functions of BlackBerry 10 devices may still work after the end of life date … they may not do so reliably,” the company said.
When the company pivoted away from smartphones several years ago, it moved the business into other technological fields like cybersecurity, autonomous driving and the Internet of Things.
“Chances are, we are more a part of your life today than we ever were as a handset company, though you may not even realize it,” Chen said, noting the company’s software is installed on nearly 200 million cars around the world and nearly 500 million internet-connected devices, and that its cybersecurity division helped thwart 165 million cyberattacks last year.
“For many of us, those BlackBerry devices earned a permanent place in our hearts, and it’s been sad to see them go,” Chen said.
“[But] letting go of the past is always bittersweet, even when a brighter future awaits.”
Android versions should still work
While its hard to understate the symbolism of today’s news, it does not necessarily mean that every smartphone with a BlackBerry logo on has just turned into an expensive keyboard-enabled brick. The announcement is specific to classic, legacy devices manufactured by BlackBerry.
In recent years, the company has signed numerous licensing deals with companies in China and the U.S. to make BlackBerry-branded devices — some of which don’t have any BlackBerry software under the hood and instead run on Google’s Android operating system.
The company did not reply to an inquiry from CBC News as to how many such devices are in circulation in Canada and around the world, but in a statement did say that any of them that exist will not be impacted, “unless they are receiving redirected email sent to a BlackBerry-hosted email address.”
“Customers that are using any of the impacted devices can contact their wireless carrier for help with transitioning to other devices,” BlackBerry said.
Mason won’t have to give up his BlackBerry just yet because it is a version running on Android, but he frets about those phones being decommissioned next.
“There’s always a worry in the back of my mind that that may happen.”