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On Jan. 19, the Blackberry turns 20. Not quite old enough to drink, but still relegated to the history books. (Although a spot at the Smithsonian isn’t too shabby.)

The year was 1999, and Britney Spears’ “… Baby One More Time” dominated the airwaves. Canadian company Research in Motion (RIM) was poised to take pagers out of the realms of doctors and drug dealers. RIM introduced the Blackberry 850, a two-way pager that supported email and web browsing. The name Blackberry came from the distinctive shape of the device’s keys.

Product specifications that made the Blackberry standout

Measuring 2.5 by 3.5 inches, and just shy of 1-inch thick, the first Blackberry featured an LCD display, 2 MB (!) of Intel Flash memory, and a built-in wireless modem. The device ran on a AA battery. Although it didn’t offer calling capabilities, users were hooked, and the Blackberry chipped into the PalmPilot’s market. In 2000, RIM upgraded the device with the introduction of the Blackberry 957 Internet Edition. The addition of mobile web use increased Blackberry’s popularity, along with its alarm, calculator, task list, and ability to sync with the user’s PC.

In 2002, with the Blackberry 8510, users could make phones calls, albeit through a headset. However, it was the 7200 series—with its built-in calling capabilities and color screen—that turned Blackberry into the “Crackberry.”

Blackberry devotees were drawn to what former RIM CEO Thorsten Heins called the “four main pillars”: battery life, typing, security, and compression. President Barack Obama famously entered the White House with a Blackberry and Kim Kardashian didn’t give up on hers until 2016, shortly before RIM announced it would no longer manufacture new phones.

In the end, shinier, flashier, and more powerful devices outmuscled the Blackberry, but no one can deny the “Crackberry” paved the way for iPhones and Android.

Photo: mnm.all/Unsplash.

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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