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Why does the BlackBerry rule Washington when the United States loves the iPhone?

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  Alexander Howard's Photo
Posted Jun 21 2010 10:45 AM

Nielsen data shows that 23% of mobile consumers in the United States now have a smartphone. comScore February market share data indicated tht smartphone penetration is now 19% in the U.S., with 45 million total smartphones now active.  Google’s share jumped to 9%. RIM continues to lead with 42% market share. AdMob reported in April that there were 10.7 million iPhones in the United States., which is nearly a 24 % market share. 

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For government officials in the District of Columbia, smartphone market share is quite a different story. 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. Why the difference? 

For one, iPhones are made for the Web and applications. The iPhone “introduced a new paradigm, the apps paradigm, and that paradigm is everything that matters now,” said Tim O'Reilly to the Post, which noted that he’s “been introducing apps developers to the people who run federal agencies.”

As O’Reilly observed, however, “a lot of people in D.C. really love their BlackBerrys, and they have a strong relationship with them."

That may be the heart of the matter: BlackBerrys are made for email, and govies and enterprise IT execs want email access.


“Govvie email addiction is so true,” said Jim Stogdill, a CTO at Accenture. “Email is still the killer app in government. I still carry in my head the hilarious slow mo video of a gov colleague of mine walking into a stop sign as he walked alongside, me reading email on his blackberry.  I would have warned him, but I was looking up sports scores on my iPhone.“

Security is also a major concern. It's only recently that the iPhone added better encryption and remote wipe. And to date, I'm not sure there's a hardened version specific to government. (There's no app for that, as far as I know.) In fact, last week the British government declared that Apple iPhones are not to be used for sensitive communications. Better tools are coming, like Good Technology's boosts to iPhone security controls, but the strength of the iPhone's encryption is a still a huge issue, as the author's note on iPhone 3GS security at TidBits.com makes clear.

Will that change? “I was talking to a very large government customer who is evaluating smartphones for large-scale rollout,” said Stogdill. “BlackBerry is still very embedded but the users, in particular the senior ones, were clamoring for iPhones.  I do think the tide is turning quickly and I wouldn't be surprised to see a whole bunch of Android devices in government soon.”

Peter Corbett, the founder of Washington-based iStrategy Labs, thinks the market share of iPhones and Android devoices in government will shift, and soon. When the Washington Post reporter told Corbett there were only 86 iPhones in the House of Representatives, Corbett laughed and said: "It will be 5,000 in two years. I guarantee it."

One vector for that change may be through the Army, where the recent Apps for the Army contest generated dozens of apps for smartphones. Of the 53 apps submitted, 33 were built for iPhones or the Android operating system. Aps for BlackBerrys? 2.

"The Open Government initiative is giving apps developers a new relationship with a different business partner, the government," Corbett said to the Post. "Instead of throwing sheep at each other on Facebook, we are building tools that keep us safe." Also of note: While the iPhone isn’t present through much of the government yet, the General Services Administration has an iPhone pilot program underway.

So what’s going on? Why does D.C. love its BlackBerrys so much? “My impression is that DC is a two-fisted town,” said Brian Jepson, O'Reilly editor, programmer, and author. “Everyone has a BlackBerry, and many of them aren't even provisioned for voice, just data. But everyone here also has an iPhone or an Android phone or a featurephone.”

Data use is where the iPhone has long since differentiated itself from the BlackBerry; mobile data usage has exploded since Apple introduced its smartphone. There’s also matter of aesthetics, however, along with functionality too. “DC is about appearing more serious than you are capable of being, while the coasts are about looking hipper and more interesting than you  actually are,” said Stogdill. “It's the same reason I wear a suit inside the Beltway and self-consciously absurd tee shirts in San Francisco.”

So what do you think? Will government officials be asking if "there's an app for that?" soon or stay wedded to RIM's clutches? Will Android's open source allure and app store policies make a difference in Washington? Let us know below.

3 Replies

  Alexander Howard's Photo
Posted Jun 21 2010 11:18 AM

Some early answers from the Web:

"Manageability, phone w/ OS = computer, Ent needs controls," tweeted Tim, an infosec guy from Boston.

The East Coast likes function over form?" tweeted Rich Harris.

"There may be an E/W split in device usage (i.e. voice&email vs txt/tweet/app)," tweeted "Selena Kyle," a Silicon Valley resident. "Historically biz users like BB for the keyboard. For me, I like having a real keyboard. it's why i have a kindle vs nook, too."

"Blackberry is better for email," tweeted Common Cause NY. "If your main use of your smartphone is email, BB rules."

"First mover disadvantage," tweeted Andy Ellis, a security exec at Akamai. "Same reason US telephony infrastructure is backwards compared to much of world. I think security is a red herring: IT moves slowly, they've rolled out BES, but slow to roll out ActiveSync. Tail is wagging dog, and your story is looking for dog reasons, not tail reasons. But I do like your anecdotes, nice story flow."
  vanderwal's Photo
Posted Jun 21 2010 11:35 AM

I was just at Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, which is normally an iPhone loving conference. But, I noticed a far lower percentage of iPhones this year. Many more Androids, Blackberries, and even Nokia than any time in last 3 years. I started asking around and many had dropped the iPhone for another device (or kept the iPhone as their 2nd device not their primary device) due to it being a really poor phone. Other devices caught up on the needed applications or had preferred application to what was available on iPhone and their much better for voice services (or as one person said, I can have other people hear me and that is important for being a phone).

Others, were frustrated with the touch interface for typing or more correctly mistyping. Their business communications needed better accuracy than the iPhone afforded for that simple part of communication that is essential for them.
  Doron Katz's Photo
Posted Jul 15 2010 01:47 AM

Because progress is slow, and people using blackberry for years before the iPhone came out, and unless there is a compelling reason not to, they will continue to use the blackberry due to the support and experience in existence.
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Doron Katz
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