Black­Berry lovers find ways to squeeze all they can from their ag­ing de­vices

An evolv­ing set of work­arounds keeps fans in key­boards “I’d rather use my old Black­Berry than a brand-new phone”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENTS - −Ger­rit De Vynck

Dar­ren Kao, an IT con­sul­tant who runs a mo­bile software startup in Ot­tawa, uses his An­droid phone for two things: WeChat, to stay in touch with his Chi­nese clients, and the Star­bucks pay­ment app, for his morn­ing caf­feine fix. For ev­ery­thing else, he’s got his trusty Black­Berry.

Kao is part of a shrink­ing tribe of diehard Black­Berry fans ded­i­cated to nav­i­gat­ing mod­ern life with what most

peo­ple con­sider an ob­so­lete ap­pli­ance. Like many devo­tees, he says iOS and An­droid de­vices just can’t match Black­Berry’s call qual­ity, cen­tral hub for no­ti­fi­ca­tions, or phys­i­cal key­board. “I’d rather use my old Black­Berry than a brand-new phone,” he says.

To out­siders, it’s an in­creas­ingly per­verse choice. Af­ter all, Black­Berry has com­mit­ted to up­dat­ing its BB10 op­er­at­ing sys­tem only through the end of the year. It’s shift­ing its de­vices to An­droid and has no stated plans for an­other BB10 phone. And the num­ber of Black­Berry users around the world has fallen by two-thirds, to about 23 mil­lion, in just two years, ac­cord­ing to a com­pany fil­ing. Even Pres­i­dent Obama, who fa­mously fought to keep his Black­Berry de­spite the U.S. Se­cret Ser­vice’s se­cu­rity con­cerns, told Jimmy Fal­lon in June that he’s fi­nally ditched the brand (re­port­edly for Sam­sung).

The con­tin­ued loy­alty of those last 23 mil­lion users is strik­ing. Kim Kar­dashian has said she buys old Black­Ber­rys on EBay to en­sure a steady sup­ply. Oth­ers painstak­ingly fol­low on­line tu­to­ri­als on work­arounds to make pop­u­lar apps such as Snapchat and In­sta­gram work on BB10. Friends and fam­ily find them­selves adding Black­Berry Mes­sen­ger to their app ros­ter to keep in touch with the few re­main­ing Berry users in their lives.

Kao, the IT con­sul­tant and software de­vel­oper, re­fuses to mes­sage with

his wife or friends through any­thing other than BBM. “Even my girls were brought up play­ing with Black­Ber­rys as toys,” he says. He now uses a Black­Berry Clas­sic, an up­dated ver­sion of the leg­endary Black­Berry Bold.

When Black­Berry Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer John Chen chose last year to start sell­ing phones run­ning An­droid in­stead of BB10, it opened a rift in the com­mu­nity, says Chris Parsons, editor-inchief of fan web­site Crack­ “They es­sen­tially made peo­ple make a choice at that point: Are you a Black­Berry user or are you es­sen­tially an An­droid user?” says Parsons, known on the site as Bla1ze.

In 2014 a Crack­Berry main­stay known only as Cobalt232 found a way to re­work An­droid’s source code, strip­ping out el­e­ments that stop An­droid apps from work­ing on BB10. He’s al­lowed the die-hards to down­load mod­i­fied An­droid ver­sions of apps that don’t oth­er­wise work on BB10.

Still, get­ting non-Black­Berry ap­pli­ca­tions onto a BB10 phone re­quires pa­tience and some tech­ni­cal skill. And the re­sults are of­ten glitchy, says Howard Me­sharer, a waiter in Colum­bus, Ohio. He’d been us­ing Cobalt’s hack so he could Snapchat with his friends on his square-screened Black­Berry Pass­port, the lat­est in a long line that he’s owned. (He can read­ily re­cite the com­plex se­ries of model num­bers: Curve 8520, Curve 8900, Bold 9900, Bold 9700, Curve 8320, Z10, Clas­sic, Q10, Pass­port.) But he grew tired of spend­ing 45 min­utes at a clip tin­ker­ing with Snapchat work­arounds, and in May he caved and bought an LG An­droid phone. “No de­vel­oper wants to de­velop for Black­Berry,” he says. “It’s over.”

Some on Wall Street would like Black­Berry to move on, too. Mac­quarie Group an­a­lyst Gus Pa­pa­geor­giou, who’s cov­ered the Cana­dian com­pany on and off since 2002, said in May that ditch­ing hard­ware to fo­cus on software and ser­vices would help its bot­tom line and cheer in­vestors. Chen, the CEO, has said he’ll do that if he can’t make the smart­phone unit prof­itable by Septem­ber.

He’s got a ways to go. On June 23, Black­Berry re­ported bet­ter-thanex­pected quar­terly earn­ings, but net­ted a loss of $670 mil­lion, on rev­enue of $424 mil­lion, due largely to write­downs and im­pair­ments. The com­pany re­ported just $2.2 bil­lion in rev­enue last fis­cal year, its low­est since 2006. “This is a com­pany in the midst of a prod­uct tran­si­tion right now,” says Bloomberg In­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst John But­ler. “The de­vice busi­ness is clearly not work­ing.”

Kao, like other long­time fans, is strug­gling with the tran­si­tion. He got his first Black­Berry in 2003, when he landed his first job at IBM, and recalls be­ing the envy of all his friends. “It used to be a badge of honor,” he says. “Now it’s al­most a shame.”

The bot­tom line Black­Berry’s global user count fell by two-thirds in two years, to 23 mil­lion, but some fans still work hard to adapt the de­vices.

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