Blackberry's famous, desperate last stand

Blackberry-worshipper Nicky Woolf is begging RIM not to sound the death knell on the device he loves so much.

Ever watch someone you love slowly go to pieces? It's not a pleasant experience, but it's one that I've been having with Blackberry these last few years.

I love my Blackberry. I use it to write. I write articles on here. I am writing this article on my Blackberry. I write long, rambling emails. I take long, rambling notes on memo-pad. I have long, rambling conversations with friends and family on BBM, that lovely little exclusive club to which only crackberry-addicts can belong. I tweet from my Blackberry. I send more than twenty thousand texts a year. Dear Blackberry: your red flashing light is my comfort in dark places. You are my life.

I don't want gimmicks, and I'm uninterested in bells and whistles. I want a phone that gives me the basics. I communicate with people. The email system on my Blackberry is perfect. I couldn't give less of a crap that your iPhone has a spirit-level app. I already own a spirit-level, somewhere. I have never used it. I rarely browse the web. I do not play games on my phone; I have a console for that. I don't care how angry that makes your birds.

I am a man of simple tastes.

It's not like I haven't tried the alternatives. Last year I bought a Samsung Galaxy, and after the initial rush my relationship with it turned to loathing. Frustrated by how much I had to keep correcting my output on the touch-screen, I tweeted less and was brusque in texting. Sure, I could play Draw Something or Words With Friends, but I never did, because that's not what I want a phone for. I want a phone so I can efficiently and satisfyingly input and output words. That's it. The Galaxy wasn't any good for that.

On top of that, it had a malice I never sensed from a Blackberry phone. I am guilty of anthropomorphic projection here, but I am convinced that phone hated me as much as I hated it. In the end, in a fit of rage, I snapped it in half. The big fragile screen screen cracked like burnt toast. Afterwards, I felt cleansed.

Before you start, ye false-idol-worshipping cultists of iPhone, your beloved sugar-glass monolith is no more user-friendly than my hateful Samsung was. There are whole websites devoted to the hideous travails of your auto-correct. I refuse to take spurious spelling corrections from a gadget with the obstinant self-satisfaction of a traffic warden. Without auto-correct on the other hand, typing is practically impossible for human hands on a touch-screen phone. It's just untenable.

But poor Blackberry has been battered by the economic storm, crushed up against the hulls of bigger companies like Samsung, Google and Apple, sitting lower and lower to the waterline like an old rusting tramp-steamer, all hands to the pumps. Some of its output has been bizarre, and it has driven its customers – even its loyal business base – away. The "Storm" – what was that? A bizarre and ill-fated stab at touch-screen phones that nobody wanted and nobody bought. The "Torch" – as badly made as a Nineties Cadillac, and twice as ugly. Trackballs that got sticky. Keypads that shed keys. Those blackouts that forced us all to go cold-turkey on data for days on end. It's no wonder that today's release is being thought of as the last ditch effort for RIM.

But please. On the day of your famous last stand, I'm begging you. Stick to the fundamentals, and get them right. There are plenty of us who love our Blackberries for what they can do, and don't envy iPhone users their gadgetry one bit. I don't need streaming video, I don't need Spotify, I don't need games. I need a keyboard, a notepad, a solid browser maybe and a decent email system, and I need it to be bug-free and crash as little as possible, if that's not too much to ask. If the X10, the new keyboarded handset you announced today, is the spiritual successor to my little Bold, then I know I will love it.

There are many more like me. Don't let us down.


The Blackberry: in Nicky's eyes, infinitely superior to anything Samsung or Apple try to sell you. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.