Quotes from RIM's chiefs

"The most exciting mobile trend is full Qwerty keyboards. I'm sorry, it really is. I'm not making this up." Mike Lazaridis, May 2008.

To mark RIM's $500m first quarter loss and impending doom, The Guardian offers a selection of quotes from its longtime but recently trebucheted chiefs, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis.


  1. My house is currently 2 for 2 for smart phones with qwerty keyboards! :) Historically we are 5 out 6 smart phones with keyboards- none of them blackberry.

    Unfortunately, my choices are becoming more and more slim nowadays. Personally, I think the non keyboard thing is a fad for the sheeple. Please don’t take that personally, I just dont’ get it! :-)

    But back on topic- It’s probably never a good idea for companies to argue with sales trending! :) Maybe Canada has more honest marketing research, where people have identified their own personal needs and wants and are less influenced by monkey see monkey do?

    1.  So these quoted chiefs…. they had a RIM job I guess.    Sorry, low hanging fruit.

  2. Here’s an inspiration quote from their UI Guidelines – this is the opening line on page one:
    “Applications designed for BlackBerry® devices should provide a balance between the best possible user experience and a long battery life.”
    They totally nailed it on the battery life IMO.

  3. A year ago or so, someone drew a parallel between the user interface paradigm in Star Trek The Next Generation (and Voyager, and DS9) and modern interfaces such as iOS and Android. That is, there are no buttons: the screen is the user interface, and the user interface can be reconfigured to anything based on the function needed at the time. It was not too far of a leap to even imagine that the existence and popularity of the devices are paritaly due to all the adults who watched the newer Star Treks as kids. Perhaps guys like Michael Okuda even deserve some of the credit.

    There was an episode of Voyager where Tom Paris (while designing/building the Delta Flyer) incorporates knobs and sliders into the controls because he claims he’s tired of using interfaces that he “can’t feel”. His crewmates regard his comments as somewhat anachronistic. That episode aired in 1998, and was again oddly prescient. The biggest gripe I’ve heard from Blackberry stalwarts (and why they refuse to move to a different platform) is that they want to be able to “feel the keyboard”. 

    Perhaps haptics will one day bridge the worlds of reconfigurable user interfaces and tactile feedback. But for now, I feel that BlackBerry put all their chips on tactility, and now they’re losing the bet. 

    1. I’m an iPhone use but I was playing with a Galaxy recently and was really impressed with the tactile feedback of using a short vibrate when I touched the screen. It felt much more “real”. 

    2. Haptic feedback is actually pretty important, especially for applications that are most easily thought of kinesthetically. As a direct result of forty years of treating “interface usability” as synonymous with “similarity to paper under glass”, computing applications that value tactility have largely been limited to video games (whose controllers often have some level of decent haptic feedback, and have in some cases for decades), and those applications whose user interfaces would be best suited to a primarily kinesthetic-tactile design that are not games either have universally horrible UIs or are mistaken for video games (and sometimes both!)

      I don’t consider multitouch more kinesthetic or tactile than mousing (and I have other problems with touch interfaces in general, such as gorilla arm and the tendency to cover with your fingers those things that you are trying to select), but I am less of a visual thinker than the norm and so these shortcomings weigh more heavily on me.

      Of course, Microsoft has invested heavily in patenting (if not developing) configurable haptic feedback for touchscreens, apparently using the peizoelectric effect to raise portions of capacitive touch displays. This will never simulate a chiclet keyboard, let alone a nice clicky Model M, but you have to admit that when Microsoft is leading innovation in some industry, the industry has something fairly fundamentally wrong with its heading.

      Blackberries had shitty keyboards. I used one for years. I have an android phone (something manufactured by HTC) with a (nearly) full QWERTY that slides out, and it’s comparable. Maybe I’m an old fogey, but I want to type with all my fingers, not just my thumbs! Still, I much prefer using a proper keyboard over an on-screen one, or (goddess forbid) typing 4433555555666 to say ‘hello’, and it also beats handwriting recognition.

      To be honest, I hope chording keyboards come into their own soon as consumer devices. They may well do so if people jump on Google’s telephone-in-HMD bandwagon, on account of the voice interfaces and finger-tracking used in the Glass prototypes being entirely unsuitable for so many tasks. But, keyboards are not particularly tactile, and I suspect that until our coffee mugs and doorknobs become truly general-purpose computing devices we won’t actually have good haptic interfaces.

  4. These are kind of fun to read — some of them seem really short-sighted (while some actually make sense). But in all honesty, Bill Gates said a lot of things that seem equally short-sighted. Business success doesn’t come from being able to perfectly predict the future. More important is an ability to respond to it as it unfolds. And a little random luck doesn’t hurt, either.

    If you’re looking for the damning evidence in these quotes, it’s not the missed predictions, but the doggedly hanging-on to ideas after things had already started moving in opposite directions.

    1. Actually, I’d argue that business success comes from shaping the future. If you are constantly in a reactionary state to whatever market you are in, you’re going to have a bad time.

        1. No not like bankers (I’m not sure what you’re getting at there). 

          I was thinking more along the lines of the iPad (and to a lesser extent the iPhone). MS, Samsung, RIM, etc… are all playing catch-up. Call it reaction or response, the point is these companies are operating from a disadvantage by not being the first movers.

  5. So, whatever else is true, everyone else got the ability to handle email easily. In the meantime, Blackberry’s hardware did not appreciably improve from upgrade to upgrade, and they had very very few apps compared to both Apple and Android. There was just no reason for me to get a new Blackberry the last time I upgraded, and now I don’t see why I would ever go back.

    New phones plus apps = success. Cameras, tactile keyboards, etc. are all fine, but come on, dudes. Let’s see some apps.

  6. Perhaps in bankruptcy and dissolution, RIM’s domestic boosters will finally see it for the dinosaur with awful, consumer-unfriendly products it became, rather than the Canadian Tech Giant That Must Be Saved At All Costs™ they imagined. 

  7. I am on my second HTC Android device and I love them deeply.  I wish there was a tactile 12-key keypad on the unit.  The RIM Blackberry keyboard is and always has been revolting. 

      1. I used to use them for my long distance (when they were Working Assets). In any case, they’re simply reselling Sprint, with whom I will not conduct any business (it’s a long story).  I got a better LD plan and I can simply donate the difference (and then some) to charity on my own.

        Note that (assuming CREDO represents the left) the right does this, too: Affinity4 uses either Sprint or Verizon for its wireless services.  So essentially, Sprint serves the same role as Daffy Duck in “The High and the Flighty”.

        What’s funny/ironic is that one such company (I don’t remember which) was trying to get people to switch from Verizon because of VZ’s domestic partner policy.  Of course, if VZ owns the last mile (copper wires) then the “Christian” company is simply reselling Verizon, who gets paid anyway.  (It might have been Eugene Mirman who joked about this.)

        1.  I understand what you are saying, but since I don’t mind using Sprint’s network, I would much rather use CREDO than any other service. They make a real effort to support causes I support.

          Even your example with VZ doesn’t really sway me.

          Basically only a few companies own infrastructure in telecommunications. So no matter what, those few companies are going to make money on the wholesale side of the equation whether they are providing the retail service or not.

          But, I don’t need to contribute even more profits to them on the retail side of things. I will give my retail profit dollars to a company that I feel is better in some way if I have that option and with CREDO I do.

          However, I do appreciate that it makes sense to consider who is providing the underlying infrastructure  when you are looking at a retail reseller essentially.

    1. You make no sense. You should say you’ll never buy a phone without a real keyboard, no? Because if HTC stopped making keyboarded phones and iphone was the only game in town, then I’m sure you’d switch. Unless you’re lying about your reasons, but I assume you’re not.

  8. I have a nokia n8 & i’m really lucky cause i have a phone which give me everything what I need

  9. I have no complicated theories. What I know is that I find myself using my iPhone far oftener than I used my Blackberry, including using it for tasks the Blackberry is supposedly better at.

  10. Best thing to come out of RIM’s early success? The Perimeter Institute:

    “Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics is an independent research centre in foundational, theoretical physics located in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Founded in 1999, Perimeter Institute works to advance understanding of physical laws and develop new ideas about space, time, matter, and information.


    Mike Lazaridis’ initial donation of $100 million was announced on October 23, 2000. A subsequent personal donation of $50 million was made on June 4, 2008. Research operations began in 2001.”


    So, you know, at least that got done before the company went belly-up.

  11.  “For those of us who live outside of Apple’s distortion field…” Like who, for example? Giant squid?

  12. I do love a keyboard. But Blackberry produced some phones with unusable keyboards. My wife’s Pearl is horrid. Do they even sell that model anymore?

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