Blackberry rolls a classic for executives of a certain age

21 December 2014 by Steve Blum
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Some form factors just work.

The hot, new innovation from Blackberry last week is a small phone with a small, physical keyboard. Sound familiar? If not, Blackberry is helpfully calling it the Classic.

There is no shortage of people – Barack Obama and Arianna Huffington included – who like the 1990s Blackberry look. It offers unique functionality and the company’s new management is happy to provide it.

When I look at new products that catch on quickly, there’s a question I always ask myself: is the success due to designers offering consumers a genuinely new benefit, a way of meeting either a preexisting or completely new need? Or have they just identified a need without completely fulfilling it? In other words, is it a bridge product that’s merely the best that’s possible now?

The Apple Newton was a bridge product, one that identified the need and temporarily filled it until a truly useful solution was developed. So did the Palm Pilot. It’s starting to look like the iPad might go that way too. But the original Blackberry design still does what it was originally intended to do better than anything else, at least for some people. Messages, calls and contact and calendar info are accessible via a pocketable phone with a keyboard that many find comfortable.

The classic Blackberry is here to stay, just like the flip phone: it’s a convenient way of putting a limited set of important functions in a package that’s small, rugged and boasts a long battery life. Few people will make it their first choice, but many will love it as their second phone, the company phone they carry for their job or the one they stuff in a pocket on the weekend.

Blackberry will never regain its former glory, but by distilling the brand down into a solid niche it’s taking the penultimate step towards ensuring it will live on in the mobile ecosystem. The final – and necessary – move will come if and when it opens up to other operating systems.