I love my BlackBerry and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
Before you dismiss me as uncool, a luddite or stuck in the past, let me explain why I believe that when it comes to wireless communication, nothing beats the simple utility of RIM's BlackBerry smartphone.
I've been a BlackBerry user for more than 12 years. Back in late 2000, when Research In Motion came out with the BlackBerry 957, I knew I had to have one. With five megabytes of flash memory and 512 kilobytes of SRAM (static random-access memory), it had no phone but had a web browser and something I coveted – constant access to e-mail.
I had just taken a job as an equity research analyst covering tech stocks for Yorkton Securities. It took some convincing, but I managed to talk my director of research into paying around $600 for what I knew would be a productivity powerhouse.
Back then BlackBerry used an antiquated data network about a thousand times slower than today's LTE networks. BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) didn't exist, but the e-mail was instantaneous and easy-to-use. I soon found that this small device enabled me to be more productive and better at my job.
Over the years, BlackBerrys made the transformation from expensive and scarce to affordable and everywhere. For a device that first made its mark in the financial community, I often noticed regular consumers using more modern BlackBerry hardware than my colleagues. A few years ago, my wife's teenage cousin explained to me, "People in school just assume you have a BlackBerry." And, "What's your BBM?" was one of the first things you'd ask a new friend.
Then everything changed. When Apple released the iPhone in 2007, and quickly offered upgrades and improved models every year, it was obvious that BlackBerry couldn't compete with the slick interface and proliferation of applications. Many of my friends and colleagues ditched their BlackBerrys for iPhones and Androids. As a RIM shareholder, I knew that the company failed to recognize what was happening in the smartphone market. Google, on the other hand, understood the sea change and did a beautiful job on its Android operating system.
Before you accuse me of being a shareholder cheering a company for my own financial gain, you should know that I own a much bigger stake in Apple than I do in RIM. My home is full of Apple products including computers, several iPods, an iPad and two Apple TVs. And yes, I've tried iPhones.
But as a customer rather than an investor, there was no way I'd sacrifice my BlackBerry for an iPhone. My BlackBerry has always been the gold standard for e-mail. When social media came on the scene I loved how fast I could navigate between core apps like Twitter, BBM and e-mail.
Usability of a BlackBerry, for what I cared about, has always beat the iPhone. I saw my friends who'd switched to new, "cooler" phones struggle with e-mails that would disappear or never arrive. And they'd spend ages trying to find e-mails because their phones couldn't do simple things like sort by sender, date or subject. They just weren't built for people like me who work in the financial markets and get more than 200 e-mails a day.
I knew I was missing out on a decent web browser and a bunch of third-party apps. But those were all nice-to-have items – I didn't consider them essential. Plus, like many BlackBerry users (and there are still almost 80 million in the world) I've never liked typing on touch screens.
While I knew my phone was the best one for me, the pride of being a BlackBerry owner was gone. I never went out for beers with friends, dropped my Bold 9900 on the table and thought to myself, "Yeah – I've got the phone everyone else wants!" Nope. Instead, I started to notice feelings of iPhone envy. My buddies had iPhones with way better cameras than my BlackBerry. They had apps like Skype and Netflix. Their browsers were fast. They had addictive, cool games like Angry Birds. I wanted all those things, too. I just wasn't willing (nor am I currently willing) to give up the exceptional communications experience I get from a BlackBerry.
After several delays and much anticipation among investors and consumers, RIM will release its BlackBerry 10 this week. As a writer for CrackBerry.com, I've seen previews of BB10 and followed news about it closely. The phone has a web browser that keeps up with the competition, voice control and thousands of apps. And the functionality I fell in love with gets even better. The BlackBerry "Hub" is always accessible and puts all my messages in one convenient place. The BlackBerry "Flow" experience is entirely built on gestures, meaning that task-switching is super fast and done with a single finger.
I believe BlackBerry 10 is still going to be the gold standard when it comes to productivity and communication on the go. And for me, it brings back the cool. When I meet up with the guys, I look forward to being proud to throw my BlackBerry on the table.
The writer owns shares in Research In Motion and Apple.
Chris Umiastowski, P. Eng., MBA, has over a decade of professional experience analyzing technology stocks as a former top ranked equity analyst on Bay Street. Prior to that, he worked as an engineer in the telecom industry. He also writes about growth investing for Globe Investor's Strategy Lab.