U.S. government staying true to BlackBerry for the long haul

News Stacy Warden 11:45, Apr 05 2012

Will Obama’s longstanding love affair with BlackBerry continue to survive the arrival of newer, more attractive smartphones?

I remember when President Obama casually announced that he was a big-time BlackBerry user. RIM ended up making him some special fancy-pants handset with security measures set to the max. I was so excited. I was still using my BlackBerry Curve 8330 (yes, in pink, shut up) and this somewhat trivial news made me giddy—like Obama really got me, or something.

That was at least three years ago, and up until this past November, I was—rather pathetically, I admit—still clinging to the damn thing. Forget the fact that I was on something like my 14th refurbished model at that point, due to the damn thing always crapping out. Forget that BlackBerry only retrieved my email when it damn well pleased. Forget that nearly all of my friends had already switched over to Apple’s iPhone or some kind of Android-based device. I was holding out, and hey, so was Obama. SO THERE.

It wasn’t until one semi-drunken night at the corner pub last winter when I couldn’t get my own password quite right. To be fair, my BlackBerry gave me a good 10 tries, but that third bourbon had already gotten the better of me. Not realizing the full consequences of the last failed attempt, I punched in one wrong last code and watched in near tears as my once beloved BlackBerry obliterated every last piece of personal information in it.

Foolishly, very, very foolishly, I had never bothered to make good use of the phone’s backup assistant. Goodbye, memorable messages. Goodbye, photos. Goodbye cute guy from last weekend’s dance party. Hell, goodbye world (yes, it really was *that* upsetting). The only remaining contact information I had lingering was through my Verizon account, which hadn’t been updated since 2008. I spent a good 30 minutes on the phone with some BlackBerry rep who, in a nutshell, told me I was basically screwed. I’m pretty sure she was smirking and desperately wanting to say something like, “Idiot, serves you right for not reading the fucking pamphlet that came with your phone. You know, the same one you have had now for three years.”

Clearly, it was time to let go.

BlackBerry had screwed me over for the last time. Angry and bitter, I made my way over to the nearest Best Buy and explained my situation. “Give me anything but a BlackBerry,” I told the phone dude. “I’m so over that shit.” He grinned, commiserated, assured me I wasn’t alone and told me I’d be far better off with some kind of droid (for the record, the store was fresh out of the latest iPhone—along with every other retailer—and wouldn’t be getting any more for three weeks). Phone guy promised me that no matter how many times I locked myself out (this has not happened again, thankfully), my information would be automatically backed up by Google. Sold.

He also recommended that I take my old BlackBerry home, pull out a sledgehammer and go to town. “Do that, and then put it on YouTube. It’s really easy to upload straight from your new droid,” he said. But after leaving the store and messing with my new device, my anger had already started to fade. No sledgehammer necessary. Turns out I just needed to let go, and like many long-term love affairs, I had to move on to something new in order to really feel good about it.

I no longer care that Obama is still using his specially-crafted BlackBerry, and it doesn’t seem like most other folks give a crap, either. Even agency members who are still being forced to use RIM’s devices, mainly for security reasons, are so ready to move on.

In a recent report from the Washington Post, government contractor Paul Silder said he would prefer an iPhone or an Android. Silder cited BlackBerry’s small, non-friendly web browsing screen as his main BlackBerry beef: “I want a bigger screen. I only really use it for work, but it would be nice to surf the Web more easily.”

According to the report, the reason for the government’s RIM holdout has much to do with tech staffers at federal agencies being trained to fix BlackBerry devices. That makes it trickier to just switch to a new brand. BlackBerry is also cheaper than Apple’s iPhone, and many Android devices. For that reason, many government IT departments have lengthy contracts with RIM. Some believe that Washington will be the last remaining RIM loyalists. Doesn't Obama know that even the Canadians have moved on at this point?

It should be noted that more folks in the agency are being allowed to bring in iPhones and Android-based devices, but most of the 12,000 agency-issued smartphones are of the BlackBerry breed.

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