A giant stuggles to stand again

It is amazing how quickly things move in the information age.

In 1999, a company called Research in Motion introduced a cellphone called BlackBerry. It took the world by storm.

As late as Barack Obama’s 2008 election, it was still touted as a leader of the pack. Obama was constantly shown checking with aides, making notes and sending emails on his BlackBerry’s tiny keyboard.

Now, only 14 years after the introduction, the company (now known as Blackberry Ltd.) is struggling. It was announced earlier this week that a plan to take the company private had failed. Headlines talked about its dwindling supply of cash. And its latest line of smartphones was branded a flop in a story in The Wall Street Journal.

What happened? Well, fancier, more flexible phones were put out by companies like Apple and Samsung. Those companies also beat BlackBerry to the punch in linking their phones to other mobile and electronic devices.

If there is any bright spot for BlackBerry, it is that the same wave that swamped it could also save it. As Apple proved throughout the last decade, a few innovative, attractive products can bring a company back from the brink.

If BlackBerry can find itself a Steve Jobs, it could benefit from the quickness of changes in the electronics marketplace. All it needs is this decade’s equivalents of the iPhone, iPad and iPod, and it can recapture its former brilliance.

While that may seem like a tall order, tomorrow’s leader in the electronics marketplace is going to be the greatest innovator. Like Apple, BlackBerry has been to the summit. That experience should give it a leg up on smaller companies.

But, it will probably require what Jobs did for Apple. Start with a blank slate. Don’t copy others’ products. Find inventors who will give people tools and toys they don’t even know they want yet.

BlackBerry can’t recover by simply building more phones and tablets. The only Apple trait it should copy is Jobs’ formula for encouraging innovation.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.