I recently laid an old friend to rest, a loyal companion whose devoted service surpassed expectations but whose time on Earth had come to an unavoidable end. Life moves on, but I will never forget you, dear BlackBerry Bold.
That it lasted as long as it did was surprising. In elevators, at meetings, on check-out lines, people would blurt, "Wow, you still have a BlackBerry!" Some asked to hold it, handling it gingerly like an ancient relic rather than a device introduced barely a decade ago and discontinued in 2016. In an era of relentless upgrades and rollouts, obsolescence occurs at warp speed.
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I was late to the smartphone party, acquiring my first BlackBerry around 2011, four years after Apple upended mobile communications with its first iPhone. Steve Jobs got everyone screen-tapping and demanding the world in their hands. I was content with a tactile keypad and uninterested in the joys of screen time.
Bold's phone service was spotty and Internet connectivity feeble at best. Data storage was limited, and videos were jumpy. Then again, with no apps, games, movies or music to distract me, my phone was all business - and it had amazing stamina. While everyone else fretted about their dwindling battery, Bold worked all day and beyond on a single charge.
Of course, like any smartphone user, no matter how dated the device, I developed an obsession with checking for new messages, keeping a Pavlovian eye out for the BlackBerry's blinking red signal. But that wasn't Bold's fault. At least it never frazzled me with outlandish auto-corrects or errant swipes to modes and programs I didn't know I had. I deftly thumb-typed my reply or deleted the message, and then the device went right back in my pocket. It was a utility, not an entertainment complex.
As the BlackBerry fell out of favour with seemingly everyone but me, I did acquire a few lemons, suspiciously "refurbished" models purchased online. If something went haywire, the company offered no geniuses or even live agents to help out, though a quick reboot often did the trick. But my last Bold was a true Iron Man, delivering nearly four years of industrial use and surviving countless butterfingered slips to the ground and more than one trip through the dryer.
Things took a turn this summer. Calls were dropping, and my email passwords needed constant validating. After I left the Bold in direct sunlight while swimming, some keys stopped functioning, including my favourite: the exclamation point. I also found myself more often explaining, implausibly, that I was heading into a dead zone or out of cell range when callers had just heard me say I was on Park Avenue. Miraculously, the dead keys revived - Bold's hardware willed itself back to life. But the calls got worse. I couldn't walk two blocks without losing a signal. When I read that Verizon was going to discontinue 3G service at the end of 2019, I knew the end was near.
Out of respect for Bold, I sampled next-gen BlackBerrys with keypads, touchscreens and 4G pizazz, but they didn't feel right. With my family pressing, I consented to buy an iPhone XR, which immediately became out of date as soon as Apple launched yet another new phone in mid-September.
"Welcome to the 21st century," my daughter said. Now I could get digital versions of my favourite newspapers and join group texts. I could Uber and Venmo and dictate messages. My wife could finally track my phone wherever I was - welcome to the 21st century indeed.
It has been a few weeks, but I haven't downloaded a single app or podcast, and screen-tapping is the devil I had always dreaded. But the phone reception is astonishingly clear, and I FaceTimed with my older son in California, the one who never calls. I noticed that my BlackBerry had some photos that hadn't been downloaded, but it was too late: The phone service had already been switched. I took Old Bold off life support and disconnected the charger. And placed it in its final resting place, in the dining room bureau next to the CD and cassette players.
- Washington Post