BlackBerry, the company that once dominated smart mobile devices, recently announced that it was finally discontinuing key services that support its phones. As of January 4th, the phones will no longer be provided with provisioning services, meaning that they will gradually lose the ability to join networks, including the cellular network.
It may seem difficult to imagine if you weren’t using cell phones at the time, but BlackBerry once dominated the smartphone market. Its keyboard-based hardware was widely adopted in corporate settings, in part because the services it provided typically ran through BlackBerry servers, allowing for high levels of security and control. An indication of its importance is that early internal builds of Android looked like a cheap BlackBerry knockoff, rather than the cheap iPhone knockoff that was eventually released.
Unlike the people who developed Android, BlackBerry’s leadership was blindsided by the iPhone’s popularity. It dismissed on-screen keyboards, and counted on its stranglehold on corporate services to maintain its market. It took over a year after the iPhone’s release for the company to come out with its own touch screen phone, and its software remained an awkward mix of old and new for some time after. In the mean time, corporate users fell in love with their Apple and Android phones, and compelled their IT departments to support them.
BlackBerry eventually gave up on its own phones, and started releasing Android versions before exiting the hardware business entirely (it now primarily provides corporate security services). The last version of the BlackBerry OS it released dates back to 2013, so the devices affected here are now extremely old. The promised period of support actually ended over a year ago, so it has already over-delivered on its promises.
The effect of the end of support is detailed on an FAQ page the former device maker is hosting. The key change is that BlackBerry will no longer be sending out provisioning updates to these devices. Provisioning information provides details on how the devices should establish connections with different types of networking equipment, including cellular and WiFi networks. As a result, at some indeterminate point in the future, networking updates made by service providers will mean that the BlackBerry devices can no longer connect. As a result, BlackBerry says its devices “will no longer be expected to reliably function, including for data, phone calls, SMS and 9-1-1 functionality.”
There are a handful of software services that relied on connections to BlackBerry servers in order to function. So, if you relied on something like BlackBerry World or BlackBerry Link, those will stop functioning on the 4th.
The number of people that are likely to be affected by this is vanishingly small. Still, it serves as a clear marker of the end of what was once a very significant technology.