Exploring My Passions: Why #TeamBlackBerry is More than a Hashtag to Me

Everyone has defining qualities, quirks, etc. that make them, well,  them.  Many of us have certain things we want others to associate with us, be it our hair style/color, the way we dress, the TV shows or movies we watch, or what have you.  In this age of mobile technology and warring tech giants, the more “involved” of us use the smartphone we carry to be a part of the definition of who we are.  Anyone who frequents Twitter, at some point, may have seen a reference to a “#TeamiPhone,” a “#TeamAndroid,” or a “#TeamWindowsPhone” (maybe not that last one), signifying the user’s device or operating system (OS) of choice.  Those are the mainstream; the ones everyone talks about and the type of devices you’d mostly see on the streets of your locality.

As a technology enthusiast, I can say that I do choose to engage in the “#TeamX” and am quite fond of it.  However, as you may have guessed from the title, I don’t use any of the three aforementioned mobile platforms.

I use a BlackBerry (namely, a BlackBerry Z30).

No, the platform of my choice is far more special to me and also incredibly meaningful beyond just the phone I use.  It’s why I’m proud to tweet with the hashtag #TeamBlackBerry.

However, in order to understand why I am so attached to my BlackBerry, naturally, it’s imperative to go back to when this affection began and explore how it grew.

Back in 2009, I was 16-years-old. I was on my second cell phone and my family was due to upgrade.  The smartphone industry was still mostly tied to corporate users as Apple’s iPhone hadn’t, as of that time, taken off yet.  BlackBerry (RIM, at that time, rather), was beginning to wane, but holding firmly.  Business users and many smartphone users still preferred BlackBerry devices.  Coming from a flip phone and liking the form factor, I decided to continue with that particular style. My mom had brought home a work-issued BlackBerry Curve quite sometime ago at that point and it fascinated me.  The thought of carrying your emails and having a web

BlackBerry Pearl Flip, courtesy of CrackBerry.com

BlackBerry Pearl Flip, courtesy of CrackBerry.com

browser all in your pocket was amazing.  Then, there was the full, physical keyboard.  I loved it, but I didn’t like the form.  Luckily for me, that was the year BlackBerry released the Pearl Flip 8220/8230. It was everything I had expected and more.  It was the perfect combination of everything I loved about flip phones with all I envied when using my mom’s Curve.  I had become a smartphone user.  But, I had, inadvertently, become part of something that would become so important to me, as well.  But it wasn’t mine to see just yet.

Two years later, in the summer of 2011, I had just graduated high school and was on the cusp of becoming a college freshman.  It was time to upgrade.  By this point, the Apple/Android battle was in full-swing and it was becoming obvious.  Whereas in 2009 I was still seeing feature phones carried by most around me, I was now seeing either an iPhone or an Android phone.  Naturally, the question of whether I should continue being a BlackBerry user reared its head.  My Pearl was good to me during the two prior years and in that time, I had become entrenched in the CrackBerry.com forums as a frequent member.  I figured “Why abandon a brand and a company who’s products I enjoy using?” So I waited until RIM released its 2011 BlackBerry line-up (BlackBerry 7 devices) of devices that year.  One day after AT&T had the

BlackBerry Torch 9810, courtesy of BerryReview.com

BlackBerry Torch 9810, courtesy of BerryReview.com

Torch 9810 online, one was on its way to my house.  This time, my parents and sister also jumped in on the smartphone revolution and decided to get iPhones.

October 2011 was the year RIM experienced its major outage (which you can read about here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/12/us-blackberry-idUSTRE79B24Y20111012).  Being a BlackBerry user, it was difficult to ignore, even though I, personally, felt little disruption from it at all.  But the mistrust was growing.  RIM was facing increasing pressure from Apple and Android to deliver something new.  It was easy to forget that BlackBerry 7 was an evolution from the same OS that ran on BlackBerry’s pagers from in 1999.  That’s software that’s 12-years-old.   From a purely software perspective, it couldn’t run the same kinds of applications that ran on Apple’s iOS (released in 2007) or Google’s Android (2008), regardless of how powerful the hardware specifications were.

RIM’s saviour (at that time) was its “BBX” platform.  BBX was intended to be a brand new operating system that makes use of the QNX microkernel, developed by QNX Software Systems and acquired by RIM in 2010.  QNX has a long history of being an incredibly reliable and stable operating system used in embedded systems like nuclear power plants and in the automotive industry.  However, it was far from complete and its only test in the consumer market was on RIM’s tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, released in

lazaridis_playbook_techvibes

Former RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis unveils the BlackBerry PlayBook, courtesy of techvibes.com

early 2011.  The ill-fated but deeply-beloved tablet was marred by broken promise after broken promise.  Initially thought to have much potential as an “iPad-killer,” releasing a tablet without apps for mail, contacts, and calendar/events was far too fatal.  Even in October 2011, it was clear that BBX (later renamed “BlackBerry 10”)  was far away.  In the meantime, RIM had to compete with Apple and Google with an outdated platform running on outdated hardware.

After an eventful start to 2012 and under a new CEO, following a bleak end to 2011 (where journalists were predicting the end for RIM),  I purchased my own PlayBook.  It was at this point that I finally began to see that I was a faithful BlackBerry user.  I had purchased a year-old tablet that fell flat, sales-wise, and was said to be avoided.  I bought it, still, under the promise that OS 2.0 (the update that brings mail, calendar, contacts, and the ability to run Android applications via a runtime) was to be released early that year.  Surely enough, that update did come and PlayBook owners like myself loved it.  RIM had finally delivered on a long-standing promise and this one little gesture gave many of us hope that under newly-minted CEO Thorsten Heins, RIM would continue.

BlackBerry World, an annual conference held by RIM to announce new products, services, etc., in 2012 was unforgettable for the simple event that it was our first glimpse at BlackBerry 10. It excited all of us BlackBerry fans, whether we were there at the conference or not. It was familiar, but different (in a good way).  It was what so many liked about their BlackBerrys, with a focus on emails and communications, with all the capabilities of its competitors.  It could run all the same games and apps iPhones and Android phones could run.  Writers and journalists who had been critical of RIM leading up to the conference were actually praising what they saw.  They believed in RIM. Clutching my Torch, I knew it was only a matter of time before I could have BlackBerry 10 for myself.

heins2012_eweek

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced the BlackBerry Dev Alpha, the first BlackBerry 10 prototype device at BlackBerry World 2012, courtesy of eWeek.com

At BlackBerry’s fall developer conference later that year, we saw even more of BlackBerry 10. The more I saw of it, the more I fell in love with it, and I couldn’t wait to see more. Positive sentiment towards BlackBerry and RIM was growing, and, after a year or more of negativity, it was a welcome sight. A slight hiccup came in the form of a small delay (which was much smaller than was initially made out to be). By the end of 2012, a date was set: 30 January 2013. On that day, BlackBerry 10 would be officially unveiled to the public at a huge media event in New York City, held contemporaneously with several, much smaller events globally. The countdown began.

The week leading up to and the morning of 30 January was an exciting period of time. After having to sit and watch while numerous other companies like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Google, etc. announced new devices and products, BlackBerry users have had to sit and wait. But on that morning (skipping class, by the way), I, along with ardent BlackBerry fans across the world, found one way or another to watch CEO Thorsten Heins announce that not only was “RIM” no more (changed to “BlackBerry”), but also announce the first two BlackBerry 10 smartphones: the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10. Soon after announcing the devices themselves, he dropped the bombshell which shattered my excitement.

Heins_blackberry10_launch_computerworld

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10 on 30 January 2013, courtesy of ComputerWorld.com

What was rumored to be a “global” release turned out to be a global launch instead. Canada, the U.K., and many other regions were slated to have devices available within days or weeks of the event. However, Mr. Heins could give no solid U.S. release date; only an “expectation” of a March release. Perhaps I was foolish for thinking that maybe, just maybe, I’d have a BlackBerry Z10 within the next week or two. But, alas, I waited.

In early March, AT&T finally set their release date at 22 March, beating every other major U.S. carrier to the punch. I put down my preorder for $550 (my first purchase of a phone outright, as well) and on the 22, I had what I had waited, really, more than year to finally have. BlackBerry 10, in my hands, was much more than I had anticipated. I had trouble keeping up with the pace of the device. Everything was fast, fluid, and beautiful. When I held it in my hands for the first time, and every subsequent time after that, I knew I was holding the best phone on the market. I showed it off to everyone at every opportunity. I was proud to carry my Z10.

Questions surrounding BlackBerry’s future arose again in August 2013, when the company actively sought a major change in strategy. And, once again, those familiar “Is BlackBerry dead?” questions were asked. I was asked those questions when I had my Torch in 2011 and much of 2012. However, at least then I could always respond with “Well, BlackBerry 10 is coming soon.” But in August 2013, BlackBerry 10 was out everywhere and the company was still finding itself in a precarious situation. Still, despite that, I knew that, no matter what was being said by journalists, media pundits, and stock analysts, the phone in my hand was the best that could be done.

Those questions were put to a rest later that autumn through some business deals that aren’t really necessary to get into right now. However, as a result of said deals, BlackBerry was able to maintain business as usual (for the most part), though under a new CEO, John Chen.

Fall 2013 also marked a pointed change for me, as well.  During this time, I had begun to expand my presence on social media a bit, namely Twitter. I wasn’t particularly good at using the platform, but I eventually accommodated and found it to be an incredibly versatile service. In addition to being able to gather news and information in real time, Twitter seemed to enable users with common interests to interact. In fact, it even seemed to promote this. Having always participated in anonymous forums to live my BlackBerry passions (as in my everyday life, I am surrounded by users of other platforms), I found Twitter to be my new social network of choice.

As I worked my way through the awkward stages of establishing oneself on any social network, I found many other BlackBerry users who, like me, shared a common passion for, not only the devices we carried, by for anything and everything to do with the brand. I felt so at home when talking to and interacting with these people.

Up until this point, I’ve yet to mention one quintessential BlackBerry feature; BBM. BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry’s own social network that was present on every BlackBerry I’ve owned since my Pearl. It was an app I thought was utterly useless. I never used it because I never saw the point of using it. Until September 2013, I could only use it with other BlackBerry users, and I didn’t know of many (and the ones I did know of didn’t use the service either). I didn’t get BBM, that is, until I started using Twitter.

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announcing BBM for iOS and Android at BlackBerry World 2013, courtesy of DCLMoible.com

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announcing BBM for iOS and Android at BlackBerry World 2013, courtesy of DCLMoible.com

For those unfamiliar with BBM, every BlackBerry device (and now BlackBerry ID) is assigned a unique 8-digit hexadecimal code called a “PIN”. BBM is a chat application (which is now more of a social network) that makes use of those PINs to send messages to other BlackBerrys. Now that BBM is on iOS, Android, and (soon to be) Windows Phone, the idea of “PIN-sharing” has grown. How is this tied to Twitter? PIN sharing on Twitter is the most secure way, in my opinion, to exchange contact information. BBM allows users to accept or reject any user that sends them an invitation to chat. One could tweet out their PIN and only accept the users they want to chat with while rejecting the ones they don’t know.

Once I began to interact with other BlackBerry enthusiasts on Twitter, my BBM contact list grew from 0 to over 50 rapidly. These people were more than simply “BlackBerry users.” They were real people that I was forming real relationships with over a common interest we both shared. To me, it was incredible.

In September, BlackBerry released the “Z30″; the successor the Z10 with its main improvements being a much larger 5” display and much better battery life. Unfortunately, this device was released only to Verizon in the United States, leaving AT&T users with little option but to wait for a possible later release date or simply import an international model. My opportunity to get a Z30 finally arose in late-March when BlackBerry began selling the device directly to customers on its site. In order to acquire one, though, I was forced to make the difficult decision to sell my beloved Z10. However, after much encouragement from my “Twitter friends,” I did so and purchased a Z30.

From the day I placed an order for my Z30 to the day it arrived, those so-called “Twitter friends” made me feel incredible simply for purchasing a device. I felt that it was almost absurd to get that excited over someone whom they didn’t even know getting a new phone. I was in both disbelief but, at the same time, utterly humbled.

“How could people I don’t even know care so much?” I thought to myself.

It caused me to shift the way I thought about people, about social interactions, about Twitter, and about this “TeamBlackBerry.” I realized my own way of thinking was absurd and archaic, even. I was using some nonsense moniker like “Twitter friends” to describe REAL people that cared about me. They no longer felt like strangers. I stopped making a line between my “friends” and my “Twitter friends.”  I no longer have “Twitter friends.” Instead, I have friends I happened to have met on Twitter. I talk to them everyday in the same manner I talk to the friends I’ve personally met and have grown-up with. There is no distinction. In fact, I’d go as far to say that many of them are more involved than many of the friends I’ve met. To me, it’s something I could have never foreseen and I’m so happy to have these people.

It’s almost unfathomable for me to believe that I’ve formed friendships with people all across the globe and the only initial common factor was that we both used BlackBerrys. And, to top it off, I cannot even begin to describe how much I love and cherish the members of #TeamBlackBerry with whom I’ve formed friendships. They are, honestly, no different to the friends I can play sports or have coffee with everyday.

#TeamBlackBerry, as a whole, has been through quite its fair share of ups and downs. At one point, its-no-our future was called into serious question. Our friends, colleagues, parents, really everyone asked whether we’d soon be forced to part with our beloved devices. Those questions arose in 2011. Despite many journalists’ predictions about RIM’s imminent “death”, today, three years later, BlackBerry stands proud. Even more proud than BlackBerry are its fans, members of #TeamBlackBerry. All of us, rallying around our device-maker of choice, our brand of choice, the friends we’ve made.

I was once asked whether I was embarrassed to be carrying a BlackBerry. I never was. Today, I am proud to carry my Z30 and stand behind this company which has given me much more than a series of smartphones. That’s why owning a BlackBerry means more to me than most could imagine.

That’s why #TeamBlackBerry is more than a hashtag to me.

That’s why I’m #TeamBlackBerry.

Connect with me on Twitter @DavidBethala

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“Describe yourself in three words”

Disclaimer: I cheated on this one (just a bit).

As a university junior nearing summer break, my internship interview schedule has become quite full in these past few weeks. One never knows what to expect from computer science/programming/information technology interviews. Some could be very straightforward, like “What experience do you have with PHP?” or “Describe a time you had difficulty working on a team.” Those are basic questions and, minus the one about PHP, one could expect to be asked similar questions at any job interview.

Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of being interviewed at a small web development and marketing firm in the beautiful Rittenhouse Square section of my hometown, Philadelphia, for a web developer position. Before this, I had been to numerous job interviews, some for internships, but mostly for part-time retail jobs. After some light discussion about my favourite superhero and villain, my estimate of the number of registered vehicles in the U.S. (I guessed 75 million, actual is 62 million), I was posed the titular challenge: “Describe yourself in three words.”

It was the first time I had ever been told to do that. Immediately, I began to contemplate whether I should describe myself, the person, or in such a way that makes me seem fit for the job (or, at the very least, competent). The three words I ended up choosing were:

-Relaxed-

I suppose I chose this one to describe my demeanor on a normal day.  Even on an abnormal day, I’m not usually an agitated person.  I’ve always been one to hide unhappy or even sad feelings and put them away. I’m of the mentality that “Why should anyone else be worried about what I have to worry about?  People have enough problems.” However, I only enforce this policy upon myself.  I encourage others to talk about their problems, even if it’s to me, because I’m always more than willing to listen.  Perhaps, this “relaxed” personality helps me keep a level head and abstain from passing judgment on others, a judgment I have no right to pass.

-Soft-spoken (What a snake I am, picking a two-word phrase!)-

This one was easy to pick, but no so easy to say (clearly).  I’m, by no means, a loud person.  I have thoughts of all kinds running through my head at any given second, but when it comes to choosing one and explaining it, I’m quite terrible.  So, in an effort to reduce all instances of sounding like an idiot, I don’t speak so loudly.  Besides, I can’t say I like the sound of my own voice at high volumes too much anyway. I dislike having to yell.

-Content-

Between the last one and this one, there was a long, awkward pause. I had no idea final word characterized me most accurately.  But I began to think about my life, in general.  I’ve been blessed with a life full of problems that I’m quite fortunate to have. I never have to worry about from where my next meal will come, where I go if I get sick, or anything along those lines.  At the same time, my life isn’t what I’d, ideally, choose. Of course, no one’s life is, but perhaps what I mean is that I can imagine a happier time in my life.  Not to say that I’m not happy now, because I am, but that I could be happier.  We all have events which shape our lives and the events that found their way into mine and caused this “dip” in happiness has surely changed mine forever.  In fact, I would even say that it’s changed it for the better, despite causing me a certain sadness for every joyous moment I encounter.  So, instead of saying “happy,” I think “content” more accurately described my life at that moment. Though, to be completely honest, I probably sounded pretentious. “What 21-year-old knows anything about contentment?” is what I was saying to myself walking to the train station that afternoon.

I ended up not getting that job, and I’m okay with that. I had a fantastic experience, nonetheless, and don’t regret taking the time to meet with those who interviewed me.  I was forced to look at myself and do one of the hardest things any of us could be asked to do: describe ourselves.  It ended up being the most difficult question I was posed that day, and the most difficult question that has ever come up during a job interview for me (so far).

I have been meaning to do this for quite a while, but it’s finally time to get to it.  Being the optimist that I tend to be, my interview experience also gave me great fodder for an intro post to my blog.  I intend to write, for the most part, about my passions for technology, interest in politics, and just some interesting thoughts on life.

As I mentioned earlier, I have numerous thoughts about various things running through my head at any given time. Time to actually articulate on a few or, hopefully, many of them!

Welcome to Mocha Dark!