It seems 2011 is turning out to be one of the worst, if not the worst, years in the history of the BlackBerry platform. Google announced that, effective November 22, it will no longer support the native Gmail application for BlackBerry phones. If you already have the app, it will continue to work, but the download will be pulled and Google will cease actively supporting the feature.
Google said in a blog post, "we've focused efforts on building a great Gmail experience in the mobile browser and will continue investing in this area." It is rarely the case that a Web experience can match that of a native application, but when it comes to Gmail, many think Google has done just that, myself included. I much prefer to use the Web interface on my PC instead of an app to use Gmail.
That is on the PC though. On a phone, I am not so sure that is possible. At a minimum, you lose the ability to read and reply to messages while disconnected, such as when catching up on emails on a flight. Losing that app will make email more difficult for BlackBerry users, as it removes a powerful and easy-to-use option. You can still set up Gmail as an IMAP4 account, but you lose a number of features including contact sync, push email, online search, and support for starring emails.
RIM downplayed the importance of this in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, saying: "Since 2009, RIM has incorporated native support for Gmail in BlackBerry [operating system] 5.0 and above, which means that a separate Gmail app is not required." It goes on to say that most of its users prefer getting Gmail through RIM's BlackBerry Internet Service instead of the native Gmail app.
No matter how RIM spins it though, when one of the largest email providers in the world drops support for a platform and suggests users wait for a mobile Web page to be developed, it isn't good. It highlights BlackBerry's waning importance in the consumer market. Add to this the lackluster performance of the PlayBook tablet, declining market share, and the worst outage in the company's history, and you have a year that RIM would prefer be over and done with.