BlackBerry, the company that once dominated smart mobile devices, recently announced that it is finally shutting down key services that support its phones. From January 4, phones will no longer be provided with provisioning services, which means they will gradually lose the ability to join networks, including the cellular network.
It might seem hard to imagine if you weren’t using cell phones back then, but BlackBerry once dominated the smartphone market. Its keyboard-based hardware was widely adopted in corporate environments, in part because the services it provided were typically performed through BlackBerry servers, allowing for high levels of security and control. One indication of its importance is that early internal versions of Android looked like a cheap knockoff of the BlackBerry, rather than a cheap knockoff of the iPhone that was eventually released.
Unlike the people who developed Android, BlackBerry’s leadership was taken aback by the popularity of the iPhone. It rejected onscreen keyboards and relied on its stranglehold on business services to maintain its market. It took more than a year after the iPhone’s release for the company to come up with its own touchscreen phone, and its software remained a clunky mix of old and new for quite some time afterward. Meanwhile, business users fell in love with their Apple and Android phones and forced their IT departments to back them up.
BlackBerry eventually ditched its own phones and began releasing versions of Android before pulling out of the hardware business altogether (it now primarily provides corporate security services). The last version of BlackBerry OS that it released dates back to 2013, so the devices affected here are now extremely old. The promised support period actually ended over a year ago, so it has already kept its promises too much.
The end of support effect is detailed on an FAQ page hosted by the former device maker. The main change is that BlackBerry will no longer send provisioning updates to these devices. Provisioning information provides details of how devices should establish connections with different types of network equipment, including cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Accordingly, at some point in the future, the updates Network days performed by service providers will mean that BlackBerry devices will no longer be able to connect. As a result, BlackBerry says its devices “will no longer be expected to function reliably, including for data, phone calls, text messages, and 9-1-1 functionality.”
There are a handful of software services that rely on connections to BlackBerry servers to function. So if you trust something like BlackBerry World or BlackBerry Link, these will stop working on the 4th.
The number of people likely to be affected by this is extremely small. Yet it serves as a clear marker of the end of what was once very important technology.