The rise and rise of the BlackBerry: why the hand-held device is now the gadget of choice

The Labour Party is not in the habit of discussing its own MPs' deficiencies but, when the idea of replacing their pagers with BlackBerry handheld devices first surfaced just before Christmas, a party source had doubts: "To be honest, we weren't sure all our lot could work them," he said. It was some admission considering one reviewer had just concluded that the gadget could be mastered by "higher primates within 10 minutes".

Labour could be forgiven for expecting Alastair Campbell, a man who once directed its communications, to get to grips with the sleek, £200, pocket-sized device that gives access to e-mails while on the move.

But he is evidently not the higher primate they thought he was. After he accidentally dispatched a fruity BlackBerry missive to Newsnight telling them to "fuck off and cover something important you twats" the party was insisting yesterday that the use of such gadgets proved it was forward-looking. Mr Campbell admits he is inept at "this Blackberry malarkey".

His enthusiasm is shared by two million people worldwide. The gadget is known as "Crack-berry", so addictive is the ability to read and write messages while in a taxi, on a train, in the bath or during a meeting. David Beckham is said to be among celebrity users and Bill Gates was an early adopter.

The device, launched in Britain by the Canadian firm Research in Motion (RIM) in 2001, was chunkier than a mobile telephone or electronic personal organiser. But when it came to sending e-mails it had something every mobile lacked: a Qwerty keyboard which, even though you had to type with two thumbs, made long messages much easier.

The device's place among the political classes was demonstrated on Gordon Brown's recent trip to Africa, when his chief economic adviser, Ed Miliband, was seen tapping into such a device during a tour of one of Tanzania's most impoverished villages.

But carrying a BlackBerry does carry risks for politicians. On Washington's Capitol Hill, where 5,000 are in use across Congress after the House of Representatives voted to issue them to members, the gadgets are said to have become the dating device of choice, rather than a means of passing on earnest policy proposals. There are also health risks attached. Only two weeks ago, doctors at Imperial College, London, warned of a new medical phenomenon best described a "BlackBerry Thumb", caused by overuse of the keyboard. "The thumb is designed to flex and rotate in all directions. It works differently from the fingers," warned Sean Hughes, the college's professor of orthopaedic surgery, who said prolonged use of the device could cause wear and tear on the thumb and even lead to osteoarthritis.

Ergonomics experts at Cornell University in New York fear that the BlackBerry will have the same effect on thumbs that computer games did in the early 1990s.

The BlackBerry purists believe Mr Campbell might also want to examine his keyboard etiquette. He seems to employ a truncated text message style rather than the more traditional in-full mode that is the communication method of choice among users of the gadgets.

If, as his use of the "send" button suggests, Mr Campbell finds his keypad takes some adjusting to, then things may get worse before they get better for him. The latest BlackBerry model (7100) introduces an entirely new keyboard layout - five keys across and four down. In effect, it means users will need to learn an entirely new way of typing.

In the meantime, Research in Motion felt unable to make commercial capital out of its place in the headlines yesterday. "Sending an e-mail from your BlackBerry can sometimes feel more informal and relaxed than sending one from your PC," said Sarah West, RIM's European head of corporate marketing. "But users should remember that the same commonsense rules apply. We recommend that all users check the content of their e-mails and who they are sending them to.''



Pioneered by British and German engineers, the electronic telegraph was first patented in 1837 by Samuel Morse who, the following year, invented the dot and dash code to transmit letters. A network of telegraph lines soon spread across the US and, in 1866, the first transatlantic cable link was established. In 1910, the first wireless resulting in the capture of a criminal was sent by the captain of the SS Montrose who recognised Dr Crippen and his lover Ethel le Neve among the boat's passengers.


Developed by the Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell, the first telephone linked a room in his Boston house with the cellar. Bell's first message was spoken to his assistant Mr Watson downstairs - "Do you understand what I say" - but as the machine only allowed for one-way communication Watson was forced to run upstairs with his answer. The modern handset was created when a Swedish engineer tied a microphone and earphone to a stick so he could keep a hand free


The basis for mobile phones was developed in the 1940s, but the first modern handset was invented in 1973, and the first commercial network was not launched until 1982. Early portable phones included a cumbersome base unit the size of a briefcase, and smaller pocket models were not widely available until the mid-1990s. Folding mobiles were intentionally copied from the communicators used on Star Trek.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk