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RIM's new BlackBerry 10 handsets are just around the corner — a vital launch for the Canadian smartphone maker, which needs to lure businesses and consumers back to the brand.
The new devices will need a combination of intuitive user interface and compelling hardware, which makes now a good time to look back at RIM's heritage and its more notable handsets, for good or for bad. That's because the history of RIM can be measured out in handsets: from the first pagers through to its latest smartphones.
The RIM 850 Wireless Handheld (pictured) was announced on 12 July, 1999. Note how it was not yet called a BlackBerry; it was, however, the one that garnered it some attention.
The device itself (850 or 950, depending on network and locality, a recurrent theme for RIM) had a six- or eight-line display and was capable of sending messages, emails and had calendars, address books, task lists, a calculator and an alarm function. It was one of the first wireless devices capable of connecting people to their corporate email and contacts.
It had 4MB of memory, was powered by one AA battery and weighed 133g, which is exactly the same as an iPhone 3G. It also had a QWERTY keyboard, of course.
In the three months following its announcement RIM's stock went up 50 percent from just over $22 to around $33.50, as the wireless company focused its sights on business customers.
To put that in perspective, on 12 July, 2012, its share price was around $7; today its around double that. Apple’s stock price was around $55 in July 1999, today it stands at just over the $500 mark.
Following a successor to the 850 that had a larger display came the first BlackBerry phone that was actually a phone — well, almost.
Announced on 4 March, 2002, the 5810 was the first of a generation of devices marketed as phones with email capability, rather than as pagers. Despite its exterior — it shared almost the exact same chassis as the earlier 957 — it had all new internals. It was also available in the UK on the BT Cellnet network, now known as O2, as the 5820.
The 5810 worked on a 2G network, used a Java-based platform and allowed for voice calls, except that it required a headset as it didn't have a built-in microphone or speaker. It also offered SMS, organiser and primitive browser functionality, in addition to email.
While RIM was not yet ready to square up to the consumer market (which was still dominated by what is now termed 'dumbphones', but was at the time just 'phones', such as the Nokia 3210), RIM was readying itself for a run at Palm and its devices pitched for business.
However, the clunky phone functionality and design of the device itself couldn't match up to Palm's sleek, anodised aluminium finish found on models like the Palm V.
In mid-2003, BlackBerry launched the 7210 (the 7230 in Europe); its first handset with a colour display and a (now meagre) resolution of 240 x 160 pixels. It had 16MB of storage and had 2MB of RAM.
With a Java platform under the bonnet and a browser on board, users could now open documents, PDFs, Excel and PowerPoint files, cementing its appeal to the business crowd, who sometimes referred to it as a 'BlueBerry' rather than BlackBerry due to its colour. Naturally, that QWERTY keyboard was still in place.
Battery was pretty decent too, with a charge required only every two or three days with normal use.
With the advent of colour displays, RIM was beginning to keep half an eye on the consumer world but it wouldn't be until 2006 that it really started to expand its focus to non-business buyers. Meanwhile Nokia continued to dominate in RIM's non-core business with the release of the Nokia 3100, 3200 and 2100, and Samsung's SGH-E700 also did well.
The handsets contributed to a revival of faith in RIM, and over the space of three months its stock price nearly doubled from around $15 to $28.