A new feature film, BlackBerry, debuted at SXSW in March and will open in theaters nationally on May 12. Based on true events, the film tells the story of the rocky start, meteoric rise, and ignominious fall of the BlackBerry cellphone, which— years before the iPhone — permanently changed our expectations of mobile communications. Imagine: a single, secure device for sending and receiving emails and conducting phone conversations! Your flip phone couldn’t do that.
Oprah trilled the BlackBerry’s praises on her talk show. President Obama fought and won “a vigorous battle with his handlers” to keep his BlackBerry after he entered the White House. Corporate honchos and minions alike were in thrall to the BlackBerry’s always-on allure. Not merely popular, the BlackBerry was addictive. Its nickname was CrackBerry.
I’d been a BlackBerry fan myself — oh, how I loved its little keyboard — and so I seized the opportunity to see BlackBerry in mid-April at the San Francisco International Film Festival. The film is delightful and a little surreal, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Part of its appeal is that, like the BlackBerry itself, it was made in Canada by Canadians, far from Silicon Valley or Hollywood. That little-guy-bucking-the-Establishment quality is both endearing and refreshing.
One aspect of the BlackBerry story, though, is missing from BlackBerry — and it’s a crucial one: How did this game-changing technology end up with an un-techy name like BlackBerry?
The engineers at Research In Motion (RIM) who developed it called it the PocketLink — a quintessentially engineer-esque name, literal and descriptive. The device fit in your pocket. It provided a communications link. QED.
But as outsiders kept telling the Research In Motion guys, PocketLink was a boring name. If they wanted to break into the big leagues — and they did — they’d need something sexier.
At one point in the BlackBerry film, we see Research In Motion co-founder Mike Lazaridis scribbling…