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Topics In World History
HIST 104
Section: 99C
Instructor: Joy Dixon
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

BlackBerry is a line of mobile email and smartphone devices developed and designed by Canadian company Research in Motion (RIM) since 1999. The BlackBerry functions as the handheld mobile personal assistant with myriads of features to help the user communicate on the go. With many mobile communication paths, powerful applications and features the modern BlackBerry is much more than just a phone it's a mobile office. This project aims to explore the historical forces that have helped drive the original BlackBerry to the phone we see in the users hands today.

Research In Motion (RIM)

Research in Motion is a Canadian based company located in Ontario Canada near the University of Waterloo developed the BlackBerry. RIM started in 1984 with two engineering students Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin, the company was originally setup as an electronics and computer science consulting business. The company began focusing on transmission of wireless data and setting up of wireless point of sale customer terminals using radio waves[4]. In 1992 RIM shifted focus from working with pagers to two-way wireless communication once it was determined that they could send and receive messages on pagers they focused on sending e-mail over wireless networks. Jim Balsille joins RIM, investing $250 000 of his own money to further develop the company and is now the CEO[4]. The first BlackBerry was the 850 released in 1999 as a two way pager, following years of development, the more commonly seen BlackBerry smartphone was released in 2002 providing all the push e-mail, mobile telephone, text messaging , internet faxing, web browsing and other wireless communication information services seen today in a modern BlackBerry[4]. RIM has manufacturing facilities in Ontario, Canada and all over the world with it's headquarters still located in Waterloo Ontario.

BlackBerry Components.[18]

Main Components

The main components in any BlackBerry device vary depending on the model of the phone but most modern BlackBerry's have the following components

Triple Core Processor that will be used in future BlackBerry models.[6]

Application and Communications Processor

The Application and Communication Processor or more commonly known in computer terms as the central processing unit(CPU). The CPU is the portion of the computer system that carrries out the instructions of a program. The first CPU chips arrived from Intel in 1978 known as the Intel 8086 was a true 16 bit processor with 29 000 transistors and 20 address lines and with the storage capacity of 1MB of RAM and a clock speed of 10MHz[7]. CPU development continued rapid expansion and Intel released the 386 between 1985 and 1990 consisting of a 32 bit processor containing 275, 000 transistors with a clock speed of 33MHz and able to use up to 4GB of RAM and 64TB of virtual memory. Processor clock speeds transistor numbers L1, L2 cache sizes steadily increased during the mid 1990's to early 2000's the Clock speeds increased reaching 600MHz in 1999 with the introduction of the Pentium 3 in 1999 and approached 1 G Hz as development continued[7]. In 2000 Intel released the Pentium 4 processor possessing the architecture that most modern processors today are based on with a significantly increased clock speed and number of transistors[7]. With the advancement of the Pentium 4 and greatly enhanced clock speeds it was realized that the transistors in the processor reached a maximum clock speed unable to flip any faster creating issues for the increased size and complexity of computer programs. The clock speed of processors was maximized creating the need for multiple core processors to power new programs multiple core processors changed the way programs where executing completely overhauling programming practices. The modern CPU is integrating more process cores to run processes in parallel to achieve faster program speeds.

The Application and Communication Processors found in modern BlackBerrys are multi core processors with clock speeds in the 1 G Hz range. The multiple cores available allow for multiple applications and processes to be executing on the processor. This raw processing power allow the BlackBerry to run all of it's advanced functions and computing intensive processes[6]. Future BlackBerry models are set to see an increase in processor power as smartphone processor manufactures steady increase the clock speed and number of cores in mobile devices. The BlackBerry Torch 2 expected in 2011 will feature a 1.2 G Hz processor with 3 cores offering a substantial increasing in power over previous models and reduced power consumption[6]. The procesors used in BlackBerry devices are currently manufactured by Marvell located in the United States[6].

Radio Frequency Transceivers

Heinrich Hertz in 1888 discovered that energy generated by a transmitting oscillator could be detected form across his laboratory using a gapped metal loop, creating the fist understanding of radio wave communication[10]. Guglielmo Marconi was intrigued by the findings of Hertz and began conducting experiments with a wireless telegraph in 1894 [10]. In 1896 Marconi and his inventions moved to England since the Italian Ministry of Post and Telegraphs was not interested in his work. Backed by British funding Marconi patented the technology and setup the "Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company." Marconi's wireless telegraph greatly improved communications for ships saving many lives in disasters such as the Titanic which was equipped with a Marconi radio[11]. On December 12, 1901 Marconi successfully transmitted a transatlantic signal from Ireland to Canada[10]. The first human voice broad cast over radio waves where spoken by Natan. B Stubbefeild to a test partner in Murray, Kentucky, in 1892[11]. Canadian inventor Reginald A. Fessenden in 1906 broad casted a program of music and talk and is best known for the invention of modulation of radio waves and the fathometer, the modulation of radio waves the "heterodyne principle" allowed for the reception and transmission on the same aerial without interference. The development of radio technology continued with the first individual FM radio stations broad casting in 1965[10].

The modern Radio Frequency Transceivers found in BlackBerry devices are significantly smaller and have more capabilities than the early inventor of radio could very dream of [8]. The Radio Frequency Transceivers are electronic devices now that receive and demodulate radio frequency signals and then modulate and transmit new signals[9]. The modulated signals produced by radio frequency transceivers are used in a wide variety of video, voice and data applications. The Radio Frequency Transceiver is an essential component in the communication lines for any BlackBerry device allowing the device to communicate with the outside world using radio waves to transmit and receive data[9]. The Radio Frequency Trasneiver found in many BlackBerry models comes from Renesas located in Japan.


Keyboard with track-wheel.
Keyboard with track-ball.

Early models of the Blackberry used a modified version of the QWERTY keyboard. This improved the user’s ability to input text into emails and later instant messages. Later models modified the layout of the keyboard but until recent ‘touch screen’ technology one of the identifiable features of the BlackBerry was the ‘under-hanging’ keyboard. Blackberry also developed SureType[1] one of the first ‘predictive’ text software. This again improved both the speed and accuracy of text input.

With the advent of ‘apps’ which could provide ever expanding functionality to the smart phone, Blackberry models began to feature a track-wheel to enable quick navigation. This was later replaced by the track-ball allowing four degrees of movement as the number and functionality of Blackberry apps increased.

BlackBerry TouchScreen.[16]


The first practical cell phone cameras "camera on a hip" technology implementing CMOS active pixel sensor technology was developed by Dr Eric Fossum and his team in the early 1990's [12]. This was the first step in the realization of cameras integration into cell phone technology. The first picture to be wireless transmitted and shared to more than 2000 people was on June 11, 1997 by Philippe Kahn who sent a picture of his newly born daughter[12]. Cellphone camera technology was first introduced into the commercial domain in 1997 with Sharp and Kyocera these early devices had rudimentary sharing functions in comparison to today's phones[12].

Camera phones gained instant populatity with the release of the J-phone in Japan half of customers began using the cameras within 2 years of the introduction[12]. The popularity of camera phones then exploded when it reached the rest of the world's cell phone market in 2003 more camera phones sold worldwide than stand alone digital cameras [12]. In 2004 Nokia became the world largest digital camera manufacturer, by 2006 half of the worlds mobile phnes had a built in camera[12]. The camera phone movement continued and in 2008 and Nokia became the largest manufacturer of cameras[12]. In 2010 most phones including inexpencive models include a camera the consumer market for cellphones demands a camera as a standard feature, now synonymous with a cell phones ability to be a mobile telephone.

Modern BlackBerry phones cameras are significantly more advanced than early cellphone cameras with the ability to take higher resolution photo graphs with Mega Pixels counts approaching 12 [13]. The ability to record video has greatly been enhanced and also the networks to send photos and videos on the phone have been greatly improved.


The Lithium ion battery that powers most BlackBerry devices allows users to be on the go and power their phone. With extensive use the battery power is consumed quickly under heavy use but with lithium ion technology the battery life has significantly been extended. Lithium- ion batteries were first developed by M.S. Whittingham at Binghamton University in the 1970's using titanium sulfide as the cathode and lithium metal as the anode[14]. The batteries developed further in the 1980s with the work by Richard Yazami et al at the Grenoble Institute of technology (NPG) and French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) making use of intercalation in graphite allowing reversible intercalation of lithium into graphite. In 1991 Sony released the first commercial lithium ion battery using cells with lithium cobalt oxide[14]. Further development of lithium ion technology quickly followed in the subsequent years improving battery performance life durability and stability. The lithium ion battery market has become increasingly competitive with significant advances in performance and cost reduction.

The lithium ion battery used in most BlackBerry models is manufactured by various suppliers in China to keep the market competitive the BlackBerry Pearl battery is from Guang Zhou China providing 5V and above of electrical power and 1200 milli amperes of current. The battery is able to last most users several days without the need to charge and upto 8 hours of use for heavy users.

BlackBerry App World.

Display Screen

Most new BlackBerry models are now incorrperating touch screen displays phasing out the older LCD display screens models. The new touch screen displays are replacing many of the funcitons previously preformed by BlackBerry famous track ball and track pad interfaces. The BlackBerry Storm and Strom 2 rely exclusively on the touch screen display. The first touch screen display was developed in 1971 by Doctor Sam Hurst at the University of Kentucky originally named "Touch Sensor"[15]. Dr Sam Hurst patented sensor he called "Elograph" and created the company Elographics, the first Elograph was not transperent like current generation touchscreens[15]. The first transparent touch screen did not arrive until 1974 developed in conjunction between Doctor Sam Hurst and Elographics, five wire resistor technology found in modern touchscreens was patented in 1977.

Touchscreens gained significat popularity and visibilty with the invention of computer -assisted learning terminal developed in 1975. Touchscreens have evolved and have found many markets for their technology from point of sale systems, ATMs, PDAs, smartphones, information appliances, and portable game consoles[15]. The major forces driving touchscreen technology and acceptance is the explosion of use of touchscreens in the smartphone market. Most modern BlackBerry touchscreens make use of multi point tracking technology enabling the user to use more than one finger to manipulate the graphical user interface. The touchscreens used by RIM are developed and manufactured in Guang Dong-China by H&Y technology Co.

Blackberry security

One of the key features of the Blackberry and one most sited for its successful penetration into the upper echelons of business and government is Blackberry’s security model. Blackberry has a number of security features that has not only made it popular with the powerful but also the empowered notably in places that have seem Blackberry’s security an impediment to internal surveillance and security.

Blackberry security model.

End-to-End encryption

Blackberry systems use Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and Triple Data Encryption Standard (Triple DES) for all non-vocal communications on their devices. These encryptions are implemented on the ‘senders-end’ using secure private encryptions keys. These keys are stored in on the Blackberry enterprise serves in private accounts. It is two-way encryption for not only do the messages carry the jey of the sender but also one for the receiver; without both keys the message is unreadable. These keys ensure that even if the data stream is intercepted, the contents cannot be read by anyone who does not have the correct decryption keys.

Blackberry internet servers

One of the unique features of Blackberry is that all its data traffic must go through one of the RIM server facilities. One of the reasons RIM does this is to ensure the privacy and security of user accounts where the encryption keys used in the data communication between devices are kept. Large enterprise can host their own intranet using Blackberry Enterprise Server.

Blackberry PIN

Each Blackberry device is given a unique PIN, this is used to both direct communications traffic as well as ensure the sender-receiver identities can be authenticated.

Internet Security

Blackberry also uses HTTPS as wells as digital certification on all its applications to ensure that the user’s device is not compromise by potential spyware. These additional measures ensure the security of both the user’s device but the network traffic as well.

App World

BlackBerry App World is an application in BlackBerry smart phones that distribute service and application by Research In Motion (RIM) for a majority of BlackBerry devices. The service went live on April 1, 2009. RIM's BlackBerry App World isn't the only way to get mobile applications onto BlackBerry smartphone, however it's one of the most convenient. BlackBerry App World is an online store for downloading free and paid BlackBerry applications from third-party developers. By downloading App the BlackBerry smartphone are load up with different games, social networking, shopping, productivity, organization and others.

Historical Impact

Political Impact

One of the main promotional features of the Blackberry is its secured network. Unlike other communication providers which develop software that reside on third party servers, Blackberry system has remained ‘in-house’. As Blackberry messages and data travel encrypted and although it is theoretically possible to ‘hack’ these packets of data RIM’s technology has been quite resilient against any attempts. The only points where ‘decryption’ can occur are at the source (sender), target (receiver) and Blackberry servers. This means that the efforts of those nations that wish to maintain surveillance on the contents of internet traffic have been hampered by Blackberry.

United States

An unexpected boost to the Blackberry brand occurred during the 2008 American election when it became known that popularist candidate Barak Obama was ‘dependent’ on his Blackberry. Obama used social media as a main focus of his election complain thus elevating the Blackberry credentials as a leading force not only in the technology but in the evolving social and political culture. The Blackberry again received a boost when Obama successfully[3] got the Secret Service allow him to continue using his Blackberry after taking the oath of office in spite of a tradition of using only Secret Service provided communications due to the heightened risk of eavesdropping.

United Arab Emirates

In 2010 the United Arab Emirates (UAE) temporarily banned Blackberry from its nation. This was not the first attempt. The UAE complained that Blackberry did not provide access to decrypted messages sent on the Blackberry network and that this violated UAE’s attempt to ensure national security. The UAE’s telecommunication’s regulatory agency stated that "certain Blackberry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions"[2]. UAE eventually rescinded its ban on Blackberry products.

A similar issue arose in Indonesia and India. In the cases of India and Indonesia, RIM set up servers ‘in country’ informally providing an access point for national security agencies to maintain surveillance on Blackberry communication. Due to the potential security and social impact of the Blackberry networks, it has experienced similar issues in other nations such as Saudi Arabia, Barbados, Pakistan, Algeria and even in the US.


The historical impact of companies like RIM and Blackberry is still unfolding, but with the ever-growing importance of social media, instant messaging and devices like the Blackberry in the recent wave of revolutions sweeping through the Middle East, it is surely destined to be the focus of major historical works in the future.

Social Impact

When RIM first released the Blackberry, its main focus was email functionality. RIM hoped to provide for business clients a secure and simple communications channel to both traditional ‘snail-mail’ and the insecure traditional email clients. This functional focus lead to early Blackberry hardware to included miniaturized QWERTY keyboards.


One of the trends that the Blackberry helped to create is "thumbing". This is a term used to describe the act of entering in text into a portable communications device, like the Blackberry. The term is similar to texting except that it refers strictly to 'thumb' keyboards where as texting has become a blanket term referring to any IM communication irrespective of the method of text entry.

Medical concerns

Some people have claimed that the 'unnatural' motion forced on those do 'thumbing causes perminate injury to the hand. This 'medical' condition is referred to as "Blackberry thumb"[19]. It is classified as a repetitive stress injury with the most noted symptom being joint pain in the thumb and reduction of movement[20].

Language concerns

A side effect of Thumbing is a notable 'morphing' of the 'written' word. Relative to more traditional modes of written communication, thumbing is both awkward and time consuming; as a response to this those who are frequent users of the texting have adapted by creating a form of pidgin English. This is seen by the dropping characters from words (like "dwnld" for "download") or the use of 'initialism' (like "IMHO" for "In my humble opinion").

It was noticed by the middle of the last decade that these 'text short cuts' were binging to show up in non-texting contexts; such as in school essays and verbally on TV sitcoms. This has caused some academics to worry that this trend will have a detrimental effect on the language as a whole[21].

Due to the mass adoption of the Blackberry by prominent members of business and government, Blackberry can be said to have a greater influence of the 'morphing' of the written word than other texting devices. In 2011, the Oxford English Dictionary Online added a number of 'initialism' such as "OMG", "FYI" and "IMHO".