A look back at BlackBerry themes

BlackBerry Themes
By Adam Zeis on 25 Oct 2012 02:32 pm EDT

One of the great things about current BlackBerry smartphones is the level of customization. Not only can developers provide apps that let you add all kinds awesome features to the OS, but you can also customize the look and feel of your device with a BlackBerry theme. Since the early Curve 83xx series came about, we've been able to download and install custom themes that skin the OS to give it a custom look and feel. A theme provides a way for you to have a unique look that breaks away from the stock OS. Originally there were only a few styles of themes available, but now with theme developers all over the globe, hundreds of different themes can be found in all colors, shapes and sizes. Keep reading as we take a look back at the history of themes on BlackBerry. 

A Look Back At BlackBerry Themes

The Beginning - Vendor Themes

At the start, the 88xx and Curve 83xx series offered a few preset themes depending on your carrier. Prior to OS 4.3, most devices allowed for a choice of Zen, Icon or Today theme. While these were different, they didn't give a great level of customization aside from moving icons around. With OS 4.5, the "L" theme was introduced, adding yet another option for users.

For those wanting a bit more, many BlackBerry users realized that buried in the OS were actually vendor themes from other carriers, only they were locked. To open them up for use took a bit legwork, but once completed gave you some great custom theme options. You essentially needed to edit a file in the OS, change around some vendor ID's and run things through Desktop Manager. 

Once successful, you now had a bunch of different themes -- all in carrier colors -- with which to use on your device. It wasn't the greatest option, but it gave you a bit more power in how your OS looked and made you feel special at the same time.

Carrier Themes 

Custom Themes 

Next came custom themes. Thanks to the Plazmic Content Developers Kit (the predecessor to the BlackBerry Theme Studio) we had the ability to create custom themes for devices including colors, icons and more. Some devices even needed special software (Plazmic Reader) for themes to work properly. There were a handful of theme developers who cashed in right off the bat creating some awesome themes for devices. At this point in time, it wasn't uncommon for developers to charge $4, $5 or even up to $10 for a well made theme (man, how times have changed).

Most themes were available as a desktop download and needed to be installed via Desktop Manager, while others provided an OTA (Over The Air) link so you could install the theme right from your device.

Corey Visto 

These themes were pretty basic compared to ones we see today. The kept the same basic flow of the Zen, Today, L or Icon style, only adding in custom colors and replacing homescreeen and banner icons.  At the start, many themes had "locked" or "docked" icons - meaning you could only use the theme as the developer intended. The homescreen icons were locked and couldn't be moved or rearranged at all. Others (which we obviously more popular) had customizable icons so you could move them where you wanted on your homescreen. Now they look really dated - just check out the CB 2.0 theme.

The next wave of themes took things to another level that BlackBerry users had not seen before. It was themes like Crossbar and FlowBerry that really showed off what could be done.

Theme Studio 

The Plazmic CDK was later lumped in with RIM's other tools and moved "in house". After the Plazmic name went to the wind, the new software was dubbed BlackBerry Theme Builder in late 2009. Later renamed to BlackBerry Theme Studio, RIM even held a few webinars to get developers adjusted to the new software and help them learn how to sell themes in BlackBerry App World.   

Along the way things progressed non-stop. We saw new, custom icon layouts, fancy homescreens, the "weather slot", animated themes and much, much more. There are themes that looks like other platforms, movie themes, music themes, sports themes ... you name it. There seemed to be no stopping theme developers from coming up with the next best thing for BlackBerry themes either - always seemingly trying to one-up each other with cool features hidden inside. So many themes were being produced that we had to spread the love in the CrackBerry forums and even move to a Theme Roundup instead of just solo posts for themes. 

Calx Design 

No Themes on BlackBerry 10 

With the introduction of BlackBerry 7, themes were nowhere to be found. It was unknown at the time if RIM would even release Theme Studio for BB7 but some developers figured out how to make BB7 themes using the old Theme Studio. Then again, the theme builder was notoriously late to launch. At first things were slow, but as the days went by, more and more theme developers were cranking out some really great stuff for BlackBerry 7 devices. It looked like theming wouldn't slow down at all without a proper Theme Studio ... and that was the case until recently when RIM announced there would be no Theme Studio for BlackBerry 7 and also that BlackBerry 10 devices would not include themes at all. One of the few things we'll miss on BlackBerry 10.  

While we lose some of the customization without themes, I think that BlackBerry 10 will still be amazing just the same. Maybe if we yell loud enough at RIM, down the road we'll see themes on BB10 (or maybe BB11??). I do like the ability to customize my BlackBerry how I want it, but I really don't think that losing themes will mean that much in the long run. Will it suck for some people? Sure, but think of all the amazing features you will have on BlackBerry 10 to make up for it.

Adam Zeis Adam Zeis "Mobile Nations Content Strategist" 3740 (articles) 2892 (forum posts)

Reader comments

A look back at BlackBerry themes


As a person who honestly does not feel the need to theme my phone, can someone tell me what the benefits of a theme other than changing the look of your phone?

you can place icons and apps where you want them and make your phone truly yours. You might have a more efficient way of placing the apps you use the most where you want them or how they look. Plus its a lot of fun to personalize your phone to look different.

It definitely helps prevent the device from becoming 'stale', especially when one is locked in for 2 years before being able to upgrade.

This is the #1 loss for BB10 in my eyes.

Good post Adam, I know a huge part of the BlackBerry community is not happy about no themes on BB10. I include myself as one of those people because since I found out about themes back when I got my first BlackBerry (9000) I never used the stock theme again.

As for people that don't understand the importance of themes for people there are a couple of reasons I can think of. The ability to customize your phone to what you want is a powerful thing. It lets people express themselves in a unique way, and not just by changing the wallpaper (boring!). Secondly, many themes brought productivity on the homescreen to another level, and with style. Productivity such as making available more apps on the homescreen, today features, hotspots, keyboard shortcuts, weather slots, and more features that I'm probably forgetting.

But like Adam said, maybe when RIM is a bit more stable users can let themselves be heard and themes on BlackBerry devices might be a possibility once again.

I really miss themes!!! My 8900 Curve was pimped out! lol

But surprisingly, I really like the OS 7 stock theme. Its clean and has a nice layout.

If I wanted a company to infantilize me, I would buy apple products!
It really is a dealbreaker for me, if I am no more able to customize my homescreen. (especially, if RIM keeps those ugly icons and there will be no way to change them)

I am thinkin more and more about buyin android, this seems to be the only plattform left, where I can customize my homescreen...

Thanks to dannieloco, Foppa, Pootermobile, and all of the other themers whose names ecape me right now, for all of your work. You made having a BB that much more interesting.

Themes are awesome! They're one of the Major reasons why I've stuck with BlackBerry for so long. Its just one of those things that helped differentiate our brand from others. I wonder if people will be able to figure out a way to sideload themes on to the phone? The announcement that The Ten wouldn't have them actually really surprised me. With all the support RIM has been trying to give developers recently, this kinda seems like a slap to the face to all those theme developers that were such an important part of the BlackBerry family. Please reconsider RIM! I was getting all excited for themes that could possible be developed with Cascades. Alas, woe is me :(,,, not to worry though, still getting The Ten as soon as it's available. Onwards and forwards my friends!

I never really got into themes. I STILL used them though, every year around X-mas I would look for & install a wintery theme for whatever phone &/or OS I was currently using. I found it made my holiday a lil bit more festive.

I will miss that in xmas 2014 :(

By the way is there anyone out there willing to make a USMC THEME for the BOLD 9930 and/ or a version of DARK ROOM for the 9930.

Top 2 Apple and Android has themes maybe they know something you don't Hope BB10 doesnt look dumb cause no themes would really be a blow.

Iphone and Android don't have themes unless you root/jailbreak them. The general consumer won't be doing that, or won't know how to without the risk of rendering it useless if something goes wrong.

I like the color blue for my menus! I like my main screen as simple as possible.

Themes have made this possible all along.

Of course, since these are basic things, perhaps some of it can be incorporated into the OS itself.

Themes were the main thing that attracted me to BB I made my own ever since my first blackberry the pearl. All the way up to my Torch 9800. And for my family and friends customizing each one to their personality and interests. When I switched to the Torch 9810 I was disapointed even after the theme developers did their work around the themes never functioned the way they should and it was beyond my expertise to make my own, With the exception of me my wife and 2 friends every one I know has abandoned Blackberry for either an iphone or an android and one of my friends is leaning that way now. So BBM is useless to me I just text every one.

To be honest if i hadn't bought my wife and i 64 GB playbooks I would drop blackberry to, and go to the Galaxy. but the Bridge app is just to binding it gives me internet every were i don't even use my wi fi at home cause my playbook cant stay connected for longer than an hour without me getting a message saying it cant find the ip adress. so i have to unplug the router and reconnect every time i want to use it for app world or an os update.

Themes I'll miss, but we've got to look forward and move forward. I'll keep the 9900 of mine and use it for old times sake.