Walk a city block in Washington and you’re sure to see more than one person glued to a BlackBerry. President Obama famously fought to keep his personal BlackBerry after his inauguration. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton uses one, as do many members of Congress.
But Washington’s well-documented BlackBerry addiction is on the wane. For many D.C. denizens, whether or not they’ll switch from BlackBerry to iPhone or Android isn’t a question of if, but when.
“You can play with an Android a lot more,” said Andrew Trembley, a consultant at the World Bank. “I wouldn’t bother with the BlackBerry; they’re business phones” — good for e-mail and little else.
“I enjoy typing with ease,” said Cammie Flippen, a paralegal at Wiley Ryan and a BlackBerry user. But, she said, “in two months, I’m switching over.”
BlackBerry is fast losing market share to other smartphone models, and BlackBerry’s maker, Canada's Research In Motion, is in financial trouble. Sales are dropping, the company is laying off employees, and RIM announced last week that it will delay the release of its newest model, the BlackBerry 10, until 2013. Chief Executive Thorsten Heins said on Tuesday in an interview with CBC News that "there's nothing wrong with the company as it exists right now," and he said he is confident it will get past its current challenges.
Heins acknowledged that RIM faces a challenge to regain market share in the United States, but said that the company isn't in a "death spiral."
BlackBerry’s continuing presence in D.C. is largely driven by the federal government’s purchasing decisions. The BlackBerry’s security protections have kept it the phone of choice for federal agencies as well as private-sector companies, such as law firms, that deal with sensitive information.
Security and manageability are among the BlackBerry’s core strengths, said Larry Silver, director of federal government sales at Research In Motion, and the devices can be easily handled by IT departments.
“RIM’s mobile-device management solution enables IT administrators to easily manage large mobile deployments, and ensures that confidential and proprietary data is controlled and protected,” Silver said in a statement.
Over 85 percent of congressional staffers use a BlackBerry for work, as do about 45 percent of lobbyists, according to a March survey by the George Washington University Graduate School of Public Management, the Original U.S. Congress Handbook, and ORI. More than 1 million government employees in North America use BlackBerry, according to RIM.
“Nobody has a BlackBerry in the private sector,” said Stryk Thomas, a management consultant at Key3 Strategy. He said there’s no way he’d consider trading in his iPhone for a BlackBerry.
But BlackBerry’s reign as the government’s PDA of choice may not last forever. The White House’s most recent Digital Government Strategy, released in May, lays out the steps toward security standards for a bring-your-own device policy. That move could erode BlackBerry’s prominence, as more and more people are choosing iPhone and Android devices over BlackBerry for personal use.
The U.S. General Services Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have already started to issue iPhones to some employees, Reuters has reported. The GSA is also issuing Android-based devices, and testing a bring-your-own device policy. Both agencies were able to make the switch after they switched to using Google Apps for Government.
Many Washingtonians who have ditched their BlackBerrys aren’t looking back.
“I still kind of miss the keyboard,” said Amy Phillips, vice president at Monument Realty. But the iPhone is “so much better,” she said; it’s particularly easy for viewing PDFs and other files that her business needs.
There isn’t a whole lot of BlackBerry mourning around the Twitterverse, either. Responding to National Journal’s requests for comment, @NaliahPorter tweeted: “COMPLETELY OVER MY BB!!! Switching to iPhone or Android when my contract ends on August 1st. And I LOVED my BB!”
@harej tweeted, “Judging by the decline in BlackBerry’s popularity, I think it’s fair to conclude that most people can live without it.”
Although D.C. has many faithful BlackBerry users, it has fewer BlackBerry devotees than you might have thought.
“I think BlackBerrys are sort of falling behind,” said Alejandro, a World Bank employee who didn’t want his last name to be used. “Washington is one of the few places they still get used. This is their last market.”