Recognizing the 21st Century Inventors II, by Professor MK Othman



Still on the invention of cellular phone, Smartphone is an improvement on cellular phone, which makes it more versatile with several functions. What is Smartphone? Oxford dictionary describes a Smartphone as “a mobile phone that performs many of the functions of a computer, typically having a touchscreen interface, Internet access, and an operating system capable of running downloaded apps”. Thus, the debut of Smartphone completely transformed cellular phone to mini – palmtop mobile computer with all the capabilities of desktop system.  BlackBerry was the first king of Smartphones up to 2007 when Apple launched the touchscreen-only iPhone and then no one could favorably compete with iPhone. Who are the people or inventors of BlackBerry, Apple and Android operation systems, responsible for making the so-called Smartphones what they are today?
As one of the pioneer Smartphones, BlackBerry was originally designed and marketed by Canadian company BlackBerry Limited (formerly known as Research In Motion, or RIM).BlackBerry was one of the most prominent Smartphone vendors in the world, specializing in secured communications and mobile productivity and well known for the keyboards on most of its devices. At its peak in September 2013, Wikipedia recorded that BlackBerry had 85 million subscribers worldwide. However, BlackBerry has since lost its dominant position in the market due to the success of the Android and iOS platforms. Thus, the number of subscribers nose – dive   to 23 million in March 2016, which had further gone down to less than five million subscribers currently.
A Canadian company, named Research in Motion (RIM) was the owners and developers of the BlackBerry operation system (OS) in 1984. Mike Lazardis who was then 23 years old and Douglas Fregin founded RIM. At the time of developing the RIM OS, mobile phones were just a mere dream for ordinary people. Initially, the ambition of RIM was the creation of pagers that made the founders of RIM partner with a number of industry players and one of such was Ericsson. The two firms worked together to develop the technology that would eventually be used in pagers and wireless payment processing systems. RIM’s agreement with Ericsson’s Mobitex wireless network allowed RIM to create pagers in North America that operated as two-way communicators, which was an advanced concept at the time, as cellular networks didn’t do data at that time.

Douglas Fregin and Mike Lazardis

Consequently, RIM became the first wireless data technology developer in North America and the first company to develop connectivity products for Mobitex wireless packet-switched data communications networks. The services became popular with military and police forces, firefighters and ambulance services around the world. This initial success attracted the attention of a Harvard graduate,Jim Balsillie who was then 33 years old, mortgaged his personal house to raise money, which he invested a princely sum of $250,000 into RIM in 1992.RIM went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1997 and in 1998 it released the RIM 950, a dramatically slimmed down two-way pager. Then in 1999, it received United States of America approval to begin selling its first BlackBerry device, the 850, with mobile email. At that time, message through email was gaining popularity in USA and thus, BlackBerry gained a huge market share in the mobile industry by concentrating on email services. It also began to offer email services on non-BlackBerry devices, such as the Palm Treo, via its proprietary BlackBerry Connect software.
The September 11, terror attack of 2001 attracted unprecedented market for BlackBerry as effective and efficient email machine on motion. This made American government to become BlackBerry’s biggest customer with the purchase over half a million of the devices. In 2002, BlackBerry 5810 was released, which added voice-calling capabilities to the device, and new devices were unveiled with a colour screen, as the number of users skyrocketed. By 2005 RIM had four million subscribers, and Balsillie and Lazaridis were named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the World. In 2006, RIM began to look beyond the enterprise market and adopted a market demand strategy, which led to the release of the first in a line of consumer-friendly Pearl devices, adding a digital camera and multimedia capabilities. The success of this strategy was amazing as RIM recorded over 10 million subscribers in 2007. In the same year, RIM released the first of its Curve BlackBerry handsets. The popularity of BlackBerry reached its climax with the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to BlackBerry’s headquarters in 2010. The Queen was said to be a long-standing fan of the BlackBerry ever since the Duke of York, Prince Andrew first introduced her to the handsets back in 2007.The Queen toured the Canadian headquarters of BlackBerry, she was presented with a personalized BlackBerry Bold 9700, depicting an image of school children offering her flowers.
The handset was presented to the Queen by company co-founder Mike Lazaridis, as she toured the Ontario factory where the devices are made. According to media report, it was the first time that the media were allowed to enter RIM’s work-floor. The RIM factory was a spacious, white floor dotted with spotless workstations and large automated machines. The Queen and her entourage, inclusive of a red-clad Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, were made to don protective smocks to guard the equipment against electrostatic shocks. The BlackBerry continued to enjoy unparalleled success as a famous Smartphone until iPhone and Google gave her a steep competition that marked her waterloo. Many factors contributed, for instance,while all the tumult and furious evolution was happening on the iPhone and Android fronts, BlackBerry was more concerned with protecting what it had already acquired, tens of millions subscribers instead of conquering new grounds for gaining 100s of millions in the open market. This made BlackBerry fell from grace to grass to the benefits of iPhone and Android.
Yours sincerely was among the deep-rooted lovers of BB until the reality shifted me to iPhone. This is the story of BB, the first telephonic device that marvelously took the World by the storm and revolutionized the communication industry. Which was the next phone after BB in the canniest game of Smartphones? However, before the debut of BB as a Smartphone, there were sporadic efforts across the globe, a kind of “Smartphone Mania Spreads From East to West” as described by an online newspaper “ThoughCo” ( In 1999 for instance, in Japan, an impressive Smartphone ecosystem was developed by local telecom NTT DoCoMo that launched a series of handsets linked to a high-speed Internet network called i-mode. Within two years, the NTT DoCoMo network had an estimated 40 million subscribers. Before then, in 1996, Nokia 9000 communicator was launched as the first notable effort to integrate Internet service with GSM cellular service.
Well, to some people, despite all the concerted efforts made by different people in different climes, the shrewdest game of Smartphones, a so-called “Smartphone revolution” didn’t start until 2007, when Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone.  Previous phones relied on keypads and could only navigate a watered-down version of the Internet. The iPhone’s large touchscreen could navigate through websites just like a desktop computer but with higher efficiency and dexterity, while appearing silkier and portable than anything cellular market had ever witnessed before. In 2007, at a heavily-hyped press event in San Francisco, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs stood on stage and unveiled a revolutionary product that not only broke the mold but also set an entirely new paradigm for computer-based phones. The look, interface and core functionality of nearly every Smartphone to come along since is in some form or another derived from the original iPhone’s innovative touchscreen-centric design.
Among some of the groundbreaking features was an expansive and responsive display from which to check email, stream video, play audio and browse the Internet with a mobile browser that loaded full websites much like what’s experienced on personal computers. Apple’s unique iOS operating system allowed for a wide range of intuitive gesture-based commands and eventually a rapidly growing warehouse of downloadable third-party applications.  Most importantly, the iPhone recreated people’s relationship with Smartphones. Up to then, Smartphones were generally oriented toward business people as an invaluable tool for staying organized, corresponding over email and boosting their productivity and Smartphones fans who used them symbol of high class in the society. Apple’s version took it to a whole hog reaching a higher level as a full-blown multimedia powerhouse, enabling users to play games, watch movies, chat, share content and stay connected to all the possibilities that the World is still constantly rediscovering. What is the current level of iPhone in the canniest game of Smartphones? Who is giving iPhone a steep competition and value for money to the customers?
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.


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