Every designer and computer nut worth their salt love industry tell-all books, and with brands such as Apple and Microsoft that marshal real zealotry it’s easy to have some exciting books in the field. One brand that has a healthy following is BlackBerry, the ubiquitous smartphone that has an extremely high reputation among the corporate and government communities. I am a designer but I use a BlackBerry instead of an iPhone, since AT&T coverage doesn’t reach the rural area in Iowa where I grew up and still visit.
So I was excited to get my hands on BlackBerry Planet, Alastair Sweeny’s well-researched book about Research In Motion (RIM) and the little product that keeps millions of people connected. The book is more historical than sensational, with less insider gossip and more traditional research and interviews. I think those who like gossipy insider books will be a little bummed by the tone, but the BlackBerry story is still compelling and the characters—with founder Mike Lazaridis in the middle—are interesting. The story arc that culminates in the creation of the BlackBerry is twisting and an exciting read, though sometimes the story is delivered almost like RIM promotional material and without total objectivity.
The last part of BlackBerry Planet veers away from this story and focuses on the “TeleBrain” concept, something Sweeny devised that seeks to capture the BlackBerry’s role in our lives. Basically, our devices serve as our TeleBrain—our brain outside our bodies that augments the original. This is good theory and worth exploring but I thought it didn’t belong in BlackBerry Planet: this is a book about RIM and the BlackBerry, not about humans’ dependence on ever-smaller computers at our fingertips. That topic is best served with another book that can devote more than a chapter to our complex relationship with the BlackBerry and other devices that came before it. I understand how the TeleBrain relates to the BlackBerry, and Sweeny’s interviews with RIM leaders and tech gurus really illustrate how the concept drives their future plans, but the TeleBrain belongs in another book.