Aug. 28, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

BlackBerry Hill: Droids, iPhones Yet to Make Headway in Capitol

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
According to the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, there are about 10,600 government-supplied smartphones being used by House staffers. Of those, about 1,500 are iPhones and 100 are Androids. The rest, about 9,000, are BlackBerrys.

In the rest of the country, people hate on BlackBerrys. Chaos — and lawsuits — ensued after a major service outage last month. According to a report released this month by Nielsen, BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion’s U.S. market share has slipped to 18 percent, down from 30 percent at the same time last year.

But not on the Hill. Here, almost everybody uses BlackBerrys, even though Senate staffers can choose between BlackBerrys and Apple iPhones, and House staffers can choose among BlackBerrys, iPhones and Google’s Android devices.

According to the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, there are about 10,600 government-supplied smartphones being used by House staffers. Of those, about 1,500 are iPhones and 100 are Androids. The rest — about 9,000 — are BlackBerrys.

Although the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms’ office could not supply exact numbers for that side of the Capitol, a spokesman confirmed that BlackBerrys far outnumber iPhones.

One possible explanation for the preference is institutional inertia, or “a ‘not broke, don’t fix it’ mentality,” explained Ken Yarmosh, founder of Washington, D.C.-based mobile agency “savvy apps.”

“When it comes to technology, people are creatures of habit,” Yarmosh said in an email. “On Capitol Hill, that’s even more true.”

Yarmosh also attributed the lasting power of BlackBerry to its keyboards, explaining that the people making equipment decisions “are scared of iPhones and other smart phones that don’t have physical keyboards.”

Scott Rodman, director of information technology for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agreed with the keyboard argument. “Even today many staff prefer the tactile keyboard over the ‘soft’ keyboard,” he said in an email. “This is slowly changing, though.”

Rodman also pointed to price as a possible explanation for the difference in popularity among phones. “The [BlackBerrys] generally come in at a pretty hefty discount,” he said. “While those discounts don’t always apply to other devices.”

A benefit of BlackBerry devices is the BlackBerry Messenger feature, which allows communication between BlackBerry devices without using the email system. According to Rodman, this “circumvents some of the bottlenecks with email in an emergency situation where data coverage can be saturated,” such as during August’s  earthquake in Virginia.

Another explanation relates to the technical differences between the three devices. Because of differences in the setup of the phones, BlackBerrys are granted direct access to Congressional mail, while iPhones and Androids must access Congressional mail through an application made by Good Technology, which is forced to disconnect from the Internet connection when inactive on the iPhone. The same application is used by Fortune 500 companies, major financial institutions and government agencies such as the Department of Defense.

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