‘Blackberry’ Ending, Explained: What Was The Reason Behind The Downfall?


Directed by Matt Johnson, Blackberry tells us the story of the rise and fall of the company, Research in Motion, which was started by Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin. There was a point when the marketing team of the company feared that, despite being the best phone of all time, there would come a time when Blackberry would be referred to as the phone that people had before they owned an iPhone. And that is exactly what happened. So, in this recap, we will discuss whether competition was the only vice that led to the downfall of Blackberry Limited or if their choices, decisions, and internal conflicts also had a role to play in it.

Spoilers Alert

Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

When Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin went to meet Jim Balsillie in his Sutherland and Shultz office, the latter wasn’t interested in what they were trying to create. But things went haywire for Balsillie, and he decided to join Research in Motion, which later came to be known as Blackberry Limited. Jim wanted to bring about a change in the way things were being done by Mike and Doug, as he wanted them to make progress by leaps and bounds, and that too as soon as possible. Jim had put his entire life at stake to pay the employees by mortgaging his own house. He knew that to achieve what he wanted, he would have to take risks and make sacrifices. The deal with US Robotics hadn’t gone well for Mike, and he had already made modems worth 1.6 million, and now there was nobody to take them. Jim had tried negotiating with Carl Yankowski, but he said that he would take all the modems if he gave them the patent for the mobile phone that Mike was working on. Jim realized that US Robotics was going to release their own phone in the market, and he asked Mike to build a prototype as soon as he could. Mike said that it would take them a year to develop that, but Jim told him upfront that they don’t have that kind of time. He was setting up a meeting with John Woodman from Bell Atlantic the very next day, and he asked Mike to be ready with the prototype at any cost. Mike did create a shabby-looking demo device, and it did the work, and John Woodman came on board. The world was taken by storm when, in the year 2002, a device that could send emails and could be used as a phone too released in the market. 

Why Wasn’t US Robotics Able To Take Over Blackberry?

Carl Yankowski proposed to Mike and Jim that they combine the Palm Pilot and Blackberry and create the greatest smartphone to have ever existed. Maybe Mike would have agreed to it, but he was told by Carl that he would not have complete control over the design and engineering aspects. Mike said very clearly that he wasn’t interested in making a deal with Carl considering the history they shared and how he had gone bankrupt when they refused to take the modems in which he had invested his entire capital. But Carl had not come there to take no for an answer, and he threatened them that he would buy their shares, sideline the management, and acquire the company through a hostile takeover. Jim knew that Carl wasn’t joking because he could actually do that if they didn’t act quickly and make sure that he wasn’t able to buy those shares somehow. So, Mike started selling more phones, but the carrier, i.e., Verizon, wasn’t able to take the load of so many mobile phones, to put it in simple words. So, Mike and his team reprogrammed the towers used by Verizon, and they increased the limit so that it could support approximately 2 million Blackberry phones at one time. The share prices skyrocketed, and US Robotics couldn’t take over the company as they had desired. Carl became a victim of his own pride and arrogance. He had undermined what Jim and Mike were capable of doing, as he had believed that he would be able to suppress them like he had during the modem deal.

Though the threat of a hostile takeover was no longer there, there were still a lot of internal conflicts rotting the foundation of the company. Jim didn’t like Doug, but after he hired Charles Purdy as the COO of the company, Doug just didn’t feel like working there. If Mike was the brains, then Doug was the soul of the company, and he was the reason why they were able to retain the employees, and moreover, he made sure that the environment was lively and positive. Things went downhill, and there came a point where Mike directly told Doug that he was no longer needed there. Doug felt disheartened, but he didn’t want to stay in an organization where he felt unwelcomed. 

‘Blackberry’ Ending Explained: What Was The Reason Behind The Downfall?

Mike Lazaridis needed to see the change as an opportunity to spread his wings even more and soar in the sky like an eagle. But he couldn’t do that because he was missing a key element that was once the primary reason for his success, i.e., innovation. His approach was right at first, but he got caught in the rat race and let go of his own authenticity, which had helped him conquer the world in the first place. He was out of revolutionary ideas because now the time was different, the situations were different, the stakes were high, and the freedom to innovate had become a privilege that he could no longer afford. And yes, we use the word freedom here because, though it is quite an undermined aspect, one needs to feel free, liberated, and dauntless if one wants to enter an unexplored territory. Some people might advocate that the workplace environment does not have that kind of impact on the quality of work, but we believe that stress is the death of creativity. You end up creating templates when you are in a stressful environment, but not original concepts.

A conference was being held at the Macworld convention, and Steve Jobs gave the world a glimpse of the first-ever iPhone on January 9, 2007. Mike didn’t think that Apple could ever overtake them, and at first, he believed that whatever Steve Jobs wanted to do was unsustainable, but history stands as proof of the fact that he was wrong. Steve Jobs knew what he was doing. He was going to repeat what Blackberry had done years ago, and the irony was that Blackberry was on the same pedestal as Carl Yankowski’s Palm devices when Blackberry had taken the market by storm. Jim told Mike that AT&T and Apple were going to sell data rather than minutes, and that was entirely going to change the game forever.

Apple had a touch screen, and Blackberry’s USP was its keypad. So basically, Mike didn’t know whether to enter the race or hold onto his strength, but the pressure was so great from all sides that he eventually gave in. Blackberry Storm was not born out of innovation but because of the need to stay relevant. Mike didn’t want to, but he had to get it manufactured in China. He was against it because he was of the opinion that Chinese products were of inferior quality, no matter how quickly and economically they were made. His fears came true when almost every model of the Blackberry Storm had some kind of manufacturing defect, and he had to either return them or replace them. They had the same white noise coming out of the device, and Mike hated it because he was averse to substandard work and incompetence. But Apple’s arrival was not the only reason that contributed to the downfall of Blackberry, as Jim Balsillie’s choices also created a lot of problems for them. To hire top talent from places like Google and Microsoft, Jim had promised to pay these star employees money that he didn’t actually have. He was backdating stock options and, additionally, illegally pricing his own shares. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) raided the Blackberry headquarters, and Mike had no option but to hand over Jim to them. Jim was disheartened, but he knew that he had overstepped, and Mike wasn’t wrong in doing what he did. Jim always bit off more than he could chew, and that is why he felt so all over the place. He was slowly reaching a state where his mind would have burst from the tension and pressure, and the thing was, he couldn’t blame anybody for it.

Mike had realized that he had been wrong in undermining the potential of Apple and that he had no plans whatsoever to tackle the problem. He was at a crossroads where he felt that competing was like giving validation to Steve Jobs and accepting that Apple was superior to Blackberry, but on the other hand, not competing meant losing out on market share. Mike stepped down from his position in 2012, and the company stopped making the phone in 2016. Jim Balsillie managed to avoid jail time, as the SEC was probably not able to find any incriminating evidence against him. We don’t know what Blackberry could have done right to stay in the market, but Blackberry’s ending made us realize that they lost direction, changed their ideals, changed their perceptions, and forgot what made them so special and what made them stand apart when they first presented the prototype to John Woodman at Bell Atlantic. Though Mike founded the Quantum Valley Investment Fund after he quit his post as CEO of Blackberry Limited, we believe that the thought of what he could have done differently to save his company will haunt him forever.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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