In the early to mid 90s pagers were all the rage. Adults, tweens and teens were rushing to phones and pay phones to call numbers that the little devices displayed. Every mall in America had pagers for sale and at least on kiosk selling pager accessories like custom cases or chains that would ensure you didn’t lose your beeper and miss that crucial page from your mom wondering when you would be home from the arcade.
In public you would hear the sound of pagers going off left and right, “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!” And see a dozen people unclip a device from their belts and look in disappointment as they see they weren’t the ones popular enough to receive the all mighty page. Eyes would scan around in search of the one lucky subscriber to usually see a teenager laughing as they gleefully read the numbers displayed in monochromatic bliss backlit by green or orange light. Perhaps a page from a friend, her boyfriend maybe, based on the look of joy probably not her parents. If only she could just somehow message back instead of having to rely on the improvised number based language her friends and family had come up with to communicate through the devices(see image).
As this scene was playing out across America two men were working on what would evolve into what we know today as smart phones. These men were named Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie the CEOs of Research In Motion(maker of the Blackberry). These guys had an idea, it seems obvious now but it was truly groundbreaking at the time. What if you could send a message back?!
In the fall of 1996 the RIM Inter@ctive 900 two way pager was released. A rather bulky device with a 650$ price tag and a clam shell design. None the less using the Mobitex network owned by RAM mobile data (which became Bell South) this device could page, do two way paging, peer-to-peer messages, the ability to send faxes and text-to-speech messages, and an Internet gateway for always connected email. RIM knew that as businesses began to adopt email and internet infrastructure that devices like these would be vital in further lording themselves over their already over worked employees. Now being 2017 I could say they were right…
All that being said this pager was a pioneer. The Bullfrog(a nickname given eventually to the Inter@ctive 900 because, well it looked like a bullfrog) could almost replace a PC of the time plus it could run for three weeks on one AA batter- hang on I gotta plug my phone in I’ve been working on it for an hour and it’s about to die. Don’t wanna lose my job cause I missed and email and five texts. Uh… oh yeah, The 900 could run on one AA battery for three weeks and featured an almost full qwerty keyboard.
This device was a huge milestone in the history of Research In Motion they had a few successes before such as making networked displays for General Motors factories, introducing its DigiSync Film KeyKode Reader, and making wireless point of sales machines. Inventing this pager was a game changer for RIM though and would lead to contracts with IBM, Bell South, and Panasonic just to name a few.
This design led the way for the 950 witch wasn’t at all toad like in looks, that in turn led to a new branding of the devices that we call Blackberries today. If you didn’t know(I know most readers know this already.) the name Blackberry was chosen because the keys look like the seed pods on a blackberry.
Personally I’ve never owned a Blackberry but I do admire the way RIM blazed the trail for smart phones, these devices were adopted by upwardly mobile professionals in around the early 2000’s to… well now really. My first smart phone was a windows mobile 3.1 phone sometime around 2006 also called a pocket PC. Now that thing was ahead of its time but that’s a story for another post.
Have you ever owned a Blackberry? Why did you quit using it? Do you still own one? Remember pagers? Please tell me all about it in the comments below.
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