BlackBerrys, of course, grew in size and gained features like the ability to make phone calls and, eventually, take photos. And then, almost overnight, they became a hot consumer product and RIM became an industry giant. The company, however, would struggle with the much more fickle consumer market. Its lower priced handsets for consumers, very unlike the ones with which it made its name, were often buggy and unreliable.
As RIM struggled to figure out what consumers wanted, it tried a something-for-everybody approach. In 2011, the company was unable to tell me how many different models it offered for an article in which I described its lineup this way: “There are BlackBerrys that flip, BlackBerrys that slide, BlackBerrys with touch screens, BlackBerrys with touch screens and keyboards, BlackBerrys with full keyboards, BlackBerrys with compact keyboards, high-end BlackBerrys and low-priced models.” In RIM’s efforts to cater to everyone, it gradually attracted almost no one.
By 2011 of course, the iPhone was well established. RIM’s executives were initially dismissive of Apple’s offering. It lacked, of course, a physical keyboard. Shortly after the iPhone was released, one senior RIM executive brought up at the end of an interview what he saw as the iPhone’s fatal flaw. Unlike BlackBerrys, he noted, iPhones couldn’t lower wireless data costs by compressing web pages. They were, he declared, “bandwidth inefficient.”
Assuming that they knew anything about bandwidth efficiency, consumers didn’t really care. Smartphones had become all about software, not keyboards — a fact BlackBerry’s executives were slow to accept. “They are not idiots, but they’ve behaved like idiots,” Jean-Louis Gassée, a former Apple executive, told me in 2011.