Smartphone maker BlackBerry is on the ropes and we all know it. Amid the financial turmoil of this once Canadian icon, there was news that the humble VW Camper, itself an iconic brand, is set to be retired at the end of this year.
The introduction of the VW Camper in 1950 could not have come at a better time. As Europeans emerged from World War II to rediscover their continent and their families, the Camper came along. Designed to transport the post war baby boom en masse, Type 2 as it was originally known, followed the best-selling Beetle as a simple, functional people mover. The recent announcement that production is coming to an end offers pause to reflect on its design and cultural impact.
Great design is never just about looks. If it was, we would all drive a DeLorean, fly on Concorde and sit in a Gerrit Rietveld chair. Design is a process by which problems are solved. The VW Camper did just this with a multitude of design innovations. From use as an ambulance to fire engine, work truck and even hearse, the Camper set the auto standard for flex-use. Success soon came and now as the 10 millionth and final production vehicle rolls off the line in Brazil, we can see that this utilitarian vehicle was a platform on which others could design applications.
The Camper connection to embattled BlackBerry is clear. Think less about competitors and markets and more about innovation. VW did not design the Camper to be a better Buick. It was born out of an idea that families were growing and therefore might need something larger to move around in. BlackBerry, after a decade or so of its own remarkable and world beating innovation, seems to have lost sight of its reason for being, and with it, an ability to take informed design risks. Without this, they have been left to focus on being as good as the next Nokia, Samsung or Apple device. A losers game to be sure.
VW did not have an app store for its Camper, but the vehicle has been a platform for a multitude of third-party creativity, from simple accessories such as a map table, awning and chemical toilet to the somewhat strange hot tub conversion and Camper Mini.
Entire cultures, from hippies to surfer dudes, and the more restrained camping crowd, adopted the Camper to reflect its lifestyle, which could be equally manifested in Bob Dylans Freewheelin' counter-culture or English countryside touring. Certainly the Camper could not be described as the Ultimate Driving Machine, with brakes that were famously described not so much to be used, but rather to make an appointment with weeks in advance.
In 1996 RIM introduced the worlds first interactive pager, and the first BlackBerry device followed in 1999. "We knew this was the future. We could see it. All we had to do was keep investing in that future long enough to intercept it," recalled co-founder, Mike Lazaridis, on the investment risk it was taking around the notion that we would all want to send each other electronic missives. For so long the future was wonderful, growing RIM into a $77 billion behemoth. Today, valued at close to a twentieth of this the future does not look so hot.
In the end it doesn't matter who owns BlackBerry, or if they ever make another handset. What is essential is that in their new form the firm can rediscover critical creative thinking and independence in design. Stop thinking about being as good as the next guy and start to dream. BlackBerry's new owners would do well to pick up the VW Camper legacy of innovation and embrace the well-know hippie era phrase, the times they are a-changin'.
At the BlackBerry 10 launch event, CEO Thorsten Heins introduced singer Alicia Keys as the company's new global creative director. Sure, Keys is a familiar and likable face to hawk your product -- but how has writing "Girl On Fire" prepared her for a creative director role? Adding to the awkward is that she's a prolific Twitter user from her iPhone and Instagram's quite a bit, a program which isn't available on BlackBerry's new operating system yet. She claimed at the event that she'd been lured back into the BlackBerry fold by the new phones.
Kevin Michaluk, owner of the premier BlackBerry fansite and blog "CrackBerry" had promised to not cut his hair until the release of BlackBerry 10. Considering there were a few delays along the way, Michaluk had a nice batch of lettuce going. Though a nice gesture of his dedication, the reaction in house was timid. Pageviews for Crackberry.com have seen a steady dip.
In an effort to build hype for the announcement of BlackBerry's new operating system and phones, the company released this video one day before the launch. The video involved a cable controlled jump with Alec Saunders, BlackBerry's VP of developer relations, and BlackBerry exec Marty Mallick. During the jump Mallick lets out a barely enthusiastic "BlackBerry 10 ruleeesssss!" The video only had 6,000 views prior to the launch event.
During the BlackBerry 10 launch event, it was revealed that Research In Motion or RIM, BlackBerry's creator, would be changing its name to...BlackBerry. More than anything this seems to signal that the BlackBerry is all or nothing for what was formerly RIM -- they have nothing to fall back on.
Many Twitter users were quick to point out the launch of BlackBerry 10 to another doomed launch, that of the the Palm Pre for Palm. The company announced the new phone and OS in January 2009, only to be scooped up by Hewlett Packard in April 2010.
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