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The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone

Guy Looking BIG 255x300 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone

From a basic pager to the quintessential smartphone for everyone from a corporate executive to the soccer mom, the BlackBerry smartphone has become the must have personal communication device for the 21st century.   Even the President of the United States, Barack Obama, refused to part with his when he took office in 2009.

Here is a brief history of this amazing phone and its evolution from basic to brilliant.

Mikelazaridis 227x300 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone

Mike Lazaridis


Research in Motion (RIM) was founded by Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin.  It was located in Waterloo, Ontario, near two universities, one known for the quality of its technology program and the other for its business program.


RIM launched software that would allow users to send data on a wireless data network, but the software failed to generate business because it was too advanced for the market.

RIM 900 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone

RIM 900


RIM launched the first Inter@ctive pager named the RIM 900.  The RIM 900 was little more than a two-way pager with a few basic pda functions.  It was a clam shell device that could fit on your belt and allowed the user to respond to as well as receive pager messages. The hardware design was a great success–it was roughly the size of a traditional pager, weighed only 4.1 ounces, and had a traditional miniaturized keyboard on which the user would type using his thumbs.

RIM 950 300x243 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone

RIM 950 / 850


RIM launches its next-generation pager the RIM 950 Wireless Handheld. This pager offered the additional capabilities of Internet connectivity such as the ability to send and receive e-mail and access Internet databases, as well as personal information management functionality (calendar, address book, etc.).  The RIM 950 won several awards from various computer and corporate magazines, including Andrew Seybold’s OUTLOOK award. Andrew Seybold was a prominent wireless industry consultant and journalist, and the award recognized the pager as an important advance in mobile computing for its size, user-interface, and functionality.


This was the year the name BlackBerry was born, but interestingly enough, the name wasn’t used for a phone but the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) software.  The RIM 850 Wireless Handheld was also released this year but was still referred to as a Wireless Handheld and not BlackBerry.  The primary difference between the 950 and the 850 was that they ran on competing wireless networks.  Similar to the difference we see in AT&T and Verizon today.

957 5790 300x179 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone2000

RIM launches the RIM 857 and 957 Wireless Handhelds (Notice they are still not called BlackBerrys).  Later that same year the first BlackBerry would be released.  It was called the BlackBerry 5790 and was very similar to the 957.  The major differences between the two being that the 5790 had a slightly larger screen and 16mb of memory as apposed to the 957′s 8mb.  All of these devices offered wireless email, corporate data access, organizer, wireless calendar, wireless internet and paging.   These features would become the cornerstone of the BlackBerry smartphone.  Click here to read a review from About.com on the BlackBerry 5790.

5810 6710 6510 300x190 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone


This was truly the year BlackBerrys came into their own as the “must-have” device for any serious corporate executive.  It was also the year multiple new BlackBerry models would be released, including the BlackBerry 5810 (first BlackBerry with a GSM radio), the 6710/6720 (first BlackBerrys with integrated phone), the 6510 (featured Nextel’s walkie-talkie feature), and the 6750 (ran on CDMA network).   This was also the year that saw the release of the first BlackBerry Web Client which we now call BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS).  This was significant because BIS enabled users to add Internet-based email to their BlackBerry.

Perhaps the most revolutionary feature of the BlackBerry was its unique ability to send and receive emails, using a technology known as push emailing that automatically forwarded new emails, contacts, and calendar entries from the company server to the unit without the need for manual synchronization.  The controls of the BlackBerry also caused quite a stir, featuring a small thumb keyboard, laid out in the same fashion as a traditional computer or typewriter (QWERTY) but optimized for use with just the thumbs.  Navigation through menus was accomplished via an innovative side-mounted wheel.

6230 7280 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone2003

Up until this year BlackBerry smartphones were geared to executives, but the release of the BlackBerry 6210, 6220 and 6230 changed that.  These devices were geared more for the individual consumer.  Of course 2003 was a significant year also because the first color BlackBerrys (7210,7230 and 7280) were released, which went a long way toward bringing them into the mainstream consumer market.  As a note, the 7000 series BlackBerrys also were the first to have International roaming capabilities.    From a financial standpoint, one of the milestones was when BlackBerry smartphones received security certification for Government customers.

7100 7520 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone


Happy Birthday RIM!  Research in Motion (RIM) celebrates their 20th anniversary and announces they have 2 million subscribers.

The year saw the release of the 7510 and 7520 which were very similar except the 7520 had 32mb of memory, compared to the 7510s 16mb and the 7520 had integrated GPS.  Both had color screens, as would all future BlackBerry smartphones.

The really big news for 2004 was the unveiling of the new 7100 slim BlackBerry smartphone.  This phone was revolutionary because it was the first implementation of the SureType keyboard, it was quad-band and had integrated Bluetooth.

But the real gift under the tree this year from RIM was the Content Developers Kit (CDK) which allowed the average user to create themes for the phones.

blackberry 8700 231x300 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone

BlackBerry 8700


Not only did RIM double their subscriber base to 4 million but they also released the 8700 series BlackBerry smartphone with GSM/GPRS network support.  The 8700 series also featured a integrated full HTML Web browser and bright QVGA (320×240) LCD display.  You might think that such a display would quickly drain battery life, but RIM minimized this by adopting “intelligent auto-sensing technology”, which automatically adjusts the LCD and keyboard lighting to suit the environment.  Of course combined with the new custom themes that were rolling out from the Content Developers Kit (CDK), this phone quickly became a favorite among owners.


Well 5 million subscribers can’t be wrong and the popularity of the 8700 helped propel RIM to a new high, with the arrow showing no signs of heading downward.  The BlackBerry 8707 is released and features UMTS which allows users to simultaneously send and receive emails, browse the internet and use other applications while speaking on the phone.

Blackberry 8300 176x300 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone

BlackBerry 8300


Released in 2007 the 8800 series was a runaway success.  It featured a 320×240 resolution screen, which could show 65,000 colors, full QWERTY keyboard, GPS, and multimedia functionality.  The primary difference that really differentiated this model from it’s predecessors, was the replacement of the side scroll wheel with a new center mounted trackball.  The trackball finally brought the feel of having a mouse to the BlackBerry applications and web browsing.

Unfortunately for those that rushed out and bought the 8800, the sleeker and sexier, BlackBerry Curve 8300 series was introduced later that same year.  The Curve had a full QWERTY keyboard, 2-megapixel camera, Bluetooth and a media player.  Although it had basically the same specifications as the 8800, it was packaged in a thinner frame with additional applications.

By October 2007, CBC News was reporting that RIM now had 10.5 million subscribers.

BlackBerry Bold 9000 201x300 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone

BlackBerry Bold 9000


Slated as a summer release, the BlackBerry Bold 9000 didn’t actually appear at stores until November 2008.  But then again when you follow a winner like the Curve, you better shine and the Bold did just that.  The most notable feature is the beautiful, half-vga (480×320) screen which really did make a huge difference for almost every application.

That wasn’t all though and the Bold also included stereo speakers, support for HSDPA, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and even an improved tactile keyboard with backlighting.  The only negative was the fact that the Bold was a bit bulkier than the Curve and slightly heavier. 

Continuing their climb up the subscriber ladder, CBC News reported that RIM would break the 14 million subscriber mark in fall of 2008.

BlackBerry Storm Tour 300x249 The History of the BlackBerry Smartphone


The year 2009 will likely be remembered as the both year of the innovation and disappointment  for smartphone maker Research in Motion (RIM).  This is primarily due to the launch of the most anticipated BlackBerry ever, the BlackBerry Storm.  Why all the hype?  Well it probably had something to do with the fact that the Storm was the first every touch screen BlackBerry ever produced.  People were even calling it the “iPhone Killer”.  These predictions unfortunately were wildly inaccurate, as the actual phone never lived up to the hype.  Don’t get me wrong, I ran out and bought one myself and honestly 60% of the time I loved the touch screen.  Navigating through the web on the beautiful 480×360 screen was a dream when all you had to do was flick your finger to move between pages.  The problem came into play whenever you had to type and isn’t that the bread and butter of a BlackBerry, the email, sms, business functions, all of which require you to type.  The problem is that someone with to much caffeine decided that having a touch screen wasn’t good enough.  No, they had to break the design bubble and actually make the BlackBerry Storm act like a regular keyboard.  How exactly?  By requiring you to actually push down and make the whole darned screen click for each and every button.  An interesting idea on paper but how it got through testing is anyone’s guess.  It was nothing short of painful in execution.  Add in the fact that the phone suffered from numerous other software related issues and you had a phone that eventually found its way to Craigslist.   As a note, RIM has announced that they will be releasing a new version of the Storm (Storm 2) which will not have the click screen and will have other enhancements.  Will I run out and buy it, yes more than likely.  I’m a BlackBerry junkie and the only fix is another BlackBerry.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Not all was bad news for 2009 when RIM released a home run and that game winner in my opinion is the BlackBerry Tour.  This is the phone that replaced the whole in my heart from the Storm and I am happy to announce that it has been a dream to own.  Having a real QWERTY keyboard and a beautiful 480×360 screen has been nothing short of nirvana.  Not only did it feature a keyboard, but it has the same tactile keyboard that the Bold has and it’s very easy to type on. The only negative for the Tour is that it does not have WiFi.

Apparently the debacle of the Storm didn’t hurt their subscriber numbers because they reported 16 million total in 2009.


With rumors galore about what is coming up on the BlackBerry radar (not less than 5 new phones) it will be interesting to see what actually pans out over the next few months and into 2010.

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About the Author

David Smith is the Technical Support Manager for MobiMadness, Inc.

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  1. [...] for touchscreen and before they came out with, what I referr to as the consumer-end phones, RIM had 5 million subscribers just for business only. Once the consumers came out, they ended last year just under 14 million [...]