The MacCult

Way back in the olden thymes, I was at a pub drinking with some friends and I somehow fell into conversation about computers with a woman. After all these year, I no longer recall much about her or the conversation, but one thing did stick with me until this day. She called herself a “Mac Snob.”

This was the mid-90’s when Apple was close to bankruptcy. Among the tech community, Apple was just another sad victim of the winner take all world of technology. If giants like Wang and DEC were getting crushed by Microsoft, a pipsqueak like Apple had no chance. Still, her weird emotional attachment to a brand stuck with me.

Fast forward to the current age and it is clear that Apple is going to be one of the winners and the reason is what that woman said. Steve Jobs could not win as a business or with technology, so he turned his company into a cultural movement, a way for the upper middle-class to distinguish themselves from the lower classes. You see it in this story about Blackberry, the Canadian phone maker.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a bit of a BlackBerry basher. The struggling smartphone, once at the epicenter of our nation’s gadget addiction, feels like it’s all but gone the way of the 8-track in recent years. While far from extinct, I can’t remember the last time I saw someone walking down the street talking, texting, or taking a selfie on one. My few friends who still carry a BlackBerry primarily use them for work, while opting for an iPhone or Android as their personal phone.

So why are we still talking about it?

And yet … just when you think it’s time to say goodbye to the good ole’ CrackBerry for good, it seems by many cautiously optimistic accounts that the embattled company could be on a path to making a comeback.

On Friday, CEO John Chen, a noted turnaround artist, reported good news, by way of an earnings showing a fourth-quarter net loss of $423 million. While most of us have a hard time wrapping our heads around how Chen could be “pleased” with that result, industry and financial analysts expected it to be a lot worse. Chen said that BlackBerry’s most recent financials are “on track and slightly ahead” of expectations, and re-asserted that BlackBerry will return to profitability and growth within little more than a year.

So what does all this mean for BlackBerry loyalists who swear by the devices flagship security and productivity features? While the company pivots back to its core strengths — securing mobile devices on the internal networks of corporate and government clients such as MasterCard, Daimler AG and Airbus Group — there’s a new line of handsets on its way for die-hard keyboard lovers. While smartphones won’t be the main focus, Chen said that BlackBerry plans to introduce high-end smartphones that cater to keyboard aficionados in the coming 18 months.

Is BlackBerry worth considering?

Recently, I gave BlackBerry’s all-new Z30 smartphone a spin. I used it for three weeks, and it was a lot better than I expected it to be. Here are three things it did better than my iPhone 5s:

– It lasts a lot longer on a single charge: My iPhone usually poops out after about 8 hours, but the BlackBerry stays awake for some 25 hours.

– It’s easier to type on: The built-in predictive text feature doesn’t just finish the word you’re typing, but it can predict the next word based on your past writing patterns. It saves time and tapping.

– It’s a better organizer: The notification hub puts all your messages, notifications, and calls in one place. Its clean layout is easy on the eyes and perfect to glance at when you have just a few seconds.

But those bonuses also come with a few drawbacks that will keep me from switching to BlackBerry for the long haul:

– The lack of apps: I want Netflix, and I want it on my phone — and I don’t want to take extra steps to get it. To say the marketplace just isn’t as robust as the competition, is a major understatement, and app lovers will suffer. Sure, you can switch some apps over (using the Device Switch App) or download Android apps from a handful of places like the Amazon Appstore, but these extra steps are a pain when you’re used to having everything you want right at your fingertips. If you’ve grown accustomed to the iOS, or even Android ecosystem, this feels like you’re just going too far back.

– It’s out-of-sync: iOS’s ability to automatically populate photos, notifications, and messages across all my — and my family’s — devices is something I just can’t give up. Sure, there are apps that will do it for you, but taking that extra step is just too much of a pain.

– The “cool” factor: I want my main gadget to be an extension of my personality. BlackBerry says “business,” when the phone I want to carry around also needs to denote “pleasure.”

There’s the issue. I’ve often noted that the best selling Apple products are their mobile products. No one buys their servers and PC’s. They tried hard to make their laptops a fashion statement, but people resist a $2,000 fashion statement. The cheap stuff like music players, phones and now tablets, on the other hand, are relatively cheap ways for the the beautiful people to signal their moral goodness.

I suspect this wanes now that Jobs is dead. His revivals were a big part of how the MacCult kept itself alive. The lack of a cool new mobile devise is going to be a problem at some point. Apple has squeezed all the juice out of the multi-use mobile platform that is the iPhone. There’s nothing else to do there. Worse yet, poor people will soon be toting around iPhones, which will make them uncool.

Blackberry has real products with real value. Their security is second to none. They also have hooks into the car business. That cool information center in your new car is most likely running on a Blackberry OS. They have a real business with real value, as long as they get their costs under control. Apple is a toy maker, but they make a lot of money selling toys to rich people. That says a lot about where we are now.