The end of the line is finally here for BlackBerry devices

The Blackberry Torch, the company's first touchscreen phone, is on display during its New York debut in 2010.
Enlarge / The Blackberry Torch, the company’s first touchscreen phone, is on display during its New York debut in 2010.

Bloomberg | fake images

BlackBerry, the company that once dominated smart mobile devices, recently announced that it would finally discontinue the key services that its phones support. As of January 4, the phones will no longer have provisioning services, which means 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 environments, 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 the first in-house versions of Android looked like a cheap knockoff of the BlackBerry, rather than the cheap knockoff of the iPhone that was eventually released.

Unlike the people who developed Android, the BlackBerry leadership was surprised by the popularity of the iPhone. It discarded on-screen keyboards and relied on its absolute dominance over corporate services to maintain its market. After the iPhone was released, it took over a year for the company to launch its own touchscreen phone, and its software remained an awkward mix of old and new for some time afterward. Meanwhile, corporate users fell in love with their Apple and Android phones, forcing their IT departments to support them.

BlackBerry eventually gave up on its own phones and started releasing Android versions before completely abandoning the hardware business (it now primarily provides corporate security services). The latest version of the BlackBerry operating system that it released dates back to 2013, so the devices affected here are now extremely old. The promised support period actually ended over a year ago, so it has already delivered on its promises.

The effect of end of support is detailed in an FAQ page the previous device manufacturer hosts. The key change is that BlackBerry will no longer send provisioning updates to these devices. Provisioning information provides details on how devices should establish connections to different types of network equipment, including cellular and WiFi networks. As a result, at some indeterminate time in the future, network updates performed by service providers will mean that BlackBerry devices will no longer be able to connect. As a result, BlackBerry says its devices “are no longer expected to work reliably, 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 to function. So if you trusted something like BlackBerry World or BlackBerry Link, those will stop working on 4.

The number of people likely to be affected by this is extremely small. Still, it serves as a clear marker of the end of what was once a very important technology.

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