BlackBerry is a name that was synonymous with smartphones in the years before the iPhone first launched and touchscreen-only devices powered by Android and iOS came to dominate. But BlackBerry stopped developing its own mobile operating system in 2015 and stopped making phones altogether not longer after.
The company eventually announced it would be pulling the plug on legacy services used by most BlackBerry OS phones to place calls, send messages, and connect to the internet. And CEO John Chen confirmed that the company decommissioned that infrastructure on January 4th. But as of January 5th many BlackBerry owners are discovering that… their phones still work. For now.
First off, if you’re wondering why it’s even possible that shutting down a server in the cloud would stop you from being able to make phone calls with a device that you already own, it’s because the way BlackBerry devices were originally positioned as enterprise hardware – BlackBerry OS was tightly tied to BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) for synchronizing things like email, BlackBerry Messenger, the BlackBerry World app store, and even web browsing.
Over the years folks have found ways to configure some older BlackBerry phones to work without BIS, but functionality is limited, the instructions won’t work on newer phones running BlackBerry 10 OS, and honestly nobody knew what would happen after BlackBerry shut down its infrastructure entirely.
But one plausible explanation is that wireless carriers also have to decommission their infrastructure related to BlackBerry phones. And until that happens, it looks like users will be able to continue using their phones normally. If that’s the case, it’s likely that rather than all remaining BlackBerry phones turning into paperweights at once, it may happen slowly as one carrier after another ends support.
And honestly, that’s kind of implied in the original shut-down notice. BlackBerry never said phones would stop working altogether. Instead the company said devices running BlackBerry OS 7.1 or earlier, BlackBerry 10, or BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.1 and earlier would “no longer reliably function” (emphasis added).
That said, reliability is kind of important when you consider what’s at stake. Features that BlackBerry warned would become unreliable after legacy services were shut off include data, phone calls, SMS, and 9-1-1 emergency calls placed either over a mobile network or WiFi.
In other words, it’s probably still a good idea for anyone hanging onto a BlackBerry to think about getting a backup phone in case your preferred device suddenly stops supporting basic functions like placing phone calls or sending text messages. But die-hards (and based on posts on forums, reddit, and social media, it seems like there may be more of them out there than I’d anticipated) may be able to squeeze a little more life out of their aging phones.
January 25, 2022 update: In the weeks since the official shut down, many BlackBerry users have run into issues including:
- Phones that have had their operating system reset cannot complete the setup process because they cannot connect to WiFi.
- After resetting a BlackBerry 10 device, it’s not possible to sideload apps (which means it’s not possible to install apps at all, now that the BlackBerry World app store is closed).
- Setting up new email accounts is tricky, if not impossible.
Know of other issues? Let us know in the comments.