Barack Obama's low-key endorsement of the BlackBerry during his presidential campaign was estimated to be worth as much as $50m (£31m). But as the aspirational status of the BlackBerry has slipped, despite recent models incorporating the swipe-screen technology that helped make Apple's iPhone so attractive, a new crowd has emerged to adopt the beleaguered BlackBerry. Not so much early-adopters as latecomers, they may well be the future for one of the mobile world's most famous brands.
It happened almost by accident at first, then decidedly on purpose. The device is now popular among America's youth, and the same is happening in Britain, and the key is free messaging.
BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion saw the evaporation of corporate interest coming for a while and has battled the almost inevitable downturn with aggressive marketing to teenagers. Trend watchers noted the BlackBerry's popularity among kids in Hollywood a couple of years ago and predicted its spread; anyone sitting on a bus at 4pm on a weekday will see that they've been proved right. Unlike the iPhone, it's possible to pick up a BlackBerry for free on a sub-£20 price plan, and while this may not make it a prestige device, kids don't care. It's cheap. And, more importantly, it has BlackBerry's proprietary messaging service, BBM.
BBM only works between BlackBerry devices, is more sophisticated and flexible than the text message and is, crucially, free to use.
Parents of teenagers may have witnessed its power. The cool girl at school gets a BlackBerry Pearl, possibly the pink model. Her friends follow suit, and they communicate over BBM. Boys, not wanting to be left out of the conversation, get a BlackBerry, too, and so it spreads. This may not have been the firm's intention, but it has worked out brilliantly. The kids love it. The question is whether enough of them will embrace the BlackBerry to offset the deserting suited clientele.