White House photographer Pete Souza captured this striking nighttime silhouette of President Obama and his "ObamaBerry" this week. Despite the connection this image implies, don't expect to get a reply from questions directed to BHO44@whitehouse.gov answered any time soon. President Obama is less reachable than, say, Steve Jobs, as several people who have written to firstname.lastname@example.org have found. As Engadget reported earlier this year, after President Obama said that presidential BlackBerry ownership is no fun, he probably is not exchanging email with more than a dozen other people on Earth:
If you'll recall, Obama fought hard early on for the privilege of maintaining his prized BlackBerry, and while he eventually won out, we learned today that a grand total of ten individuals are authorized to ping it. Yeah, ten. Needless to say, he described that depressing fact as "no fun," and even the folks that are cleared to make contact with it won't send over anything juicy. Why? They know that messages sent to it "will probably be subject to the presidential records act," so those lucky enough to have the digits are also smart enough to divert their ramblings to Texts From Last Night.
While President Obama tweeted once on the Red Cross acount, it's also a safe bet that he's not having any fun tweeting as @BarackObama either, nor that it will be replacing the Red Phone to Russia. That said, the vision of a more digitally connected president fits the moment in history, with nearly 30 % of Americans toting smartphones at the end of 2010, with 50% penetration estimated for 2011. Despite the potential IT security risks for the president and other government workers that smartphones present, as Chris Soghioan pointed out last year at CNET, that hasn't stopped them from making their way into the hands of tens of thousands of Washingtonians in the District of Columbia. Last week, I watched and smiled as new hires at the local sartup agency poked and prodded at their new BlackBerrys, getting comfortable with the functions of what has become one of the most important communication tools for their trade.
Instead of 2:1 ratio of BlackBerry to iPhone users, it’s more like 106 to 1. As a recent story in the Washington Post that explored whether iPhones will edge out BlackBerrys in Washington reported, there are currently 86 iPhone users at work amongst the aides, staff and officials in the House of Representatives, versus some 9,140 BlackBerry users. There are tens of thousands more spread among the other federal agencies.
That's changing, albeit more slowly in official Washington than it is in the rest of the country. "This quarter saw Apple and Android drive record smartphone sales. Apple's share of the smartphone market surpassed Research In Motion (RIM) in North America to put it second behind Android while Android volumes also grew rapidly making it the No. 2 operating system worldwide," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. Over the course of the past year, this correspondent has seen many more iPhones in evidence here in Washington, along with a surge of Android devices in the falll.
As Politico reported earlier this month, a tech overhaul may allow both iPads, iPhones and BlackBerrys on to the floor of the Senate. This summer, Rep. Charles Djou made history when he tweeted that "The House Parliamentarian told me that I'm the first Member of Congress to ever use an iPad" during a floor speech."
It looks like he won't be the last. As Nancy Scola reported at techPresident this week, "proposed U.S. House rules welcome (quiet) mobile devices to the floor," which means that iPads, BlackBerrys, iPhones, Android phones are indeed headed to Congress. As she wryly observed, however, Representatives should refrain from playing Angry Birds or any other "use of a mobile or electronic device that impairs decorum."
There are also reports that the iPad is popular with White House staff and even a rumor or two that people in the Cabinet are using iPads. In the judicial branch of government, the competition is between iPad and the Kindle in the Supreme Court, with Justice Kagan leaning Kindle and Justice Scalia leaning iPad for reading their briefs.
One point of clarity exists with respect to Washington and smartphones: it's generally not an "either/or" proposition in this city. Most of official Washington travels with both a work BlackBerry and another device for personal use, for any number of pragmatic records and security reasons. It's likely that a paperless Congress is still a few years away, but who knows: maybe the increase of smartphones will be a boon to get more Washingtonians shifting their thinking from “there’s a form for that” to “there’s an app for that" in 2011.