The Blackberry as we know it has been around since 1999, but it didn’t become mainstream until a few years ago. In fact, its surge of popularity is fairly recent, and today 13 million people are the proud owners of Blackberrys. There is little doubt that Obama’s favored use of the device will promote even more popularity. (Just remember that yellow sweater from ICrew that his wife was wearing during a recent interview that sold out after American women saw her in it and “had to have it.”)
Developed by the Canadian company, Research In Motion (RIM), when it first came out in 1998, the Blackberry (model 850) was little more than a monochromatic, mobile two-way pager, although it was capable of integrating email. Believe it or not, this model ran on two AA batteries. At that time, most consumers had little need for a mobile email device and indeed not even cell phones were that big on the market. It did, however, fill a need for businesses that required a mobile workforce by providing corporate data access, an organizer, calendar, paging, and wireless Internet. In 2005, PC World called the 850 the 14th greatest gadget of the past 50 years.
How did the Blackberry get its name? The device was called at one time LeapFrog, alluding to the technology leaping over the current competition, and its placeholder name was the Pocket Link. “Blackberry” came after weeks of trial and error by Lexicon Branding Inc of Sausalito, California, the company responsible for naming the Intel Corporation’s Pentium microprocessor and Apple’s PowerBook. One of experts thought that the miniature buttons on the device resembled “tiny strawberry seeds.” In the words of Lexicon founder, David Placek:
“A linguist at the firm thought straw was too slow sounding. Someone else suggested blackberry. RIM went for it.”
The smartphone Blackberry was released in 2002 and it went a bit further than the original, converging functions like push e-mail, mobile telephone, text messaging, Internet faxing, web browsing and other wireless information services as well as a multi-touch interface. It’s called “push e-mail," because all new e-mails, contacts and calendar entries are "pushed" out to the Blackberry device automatically, as opposed to the user synchronizing the data by hand or on a polling basis.
Known for its full QWERTY keyboard, many still considered the Blackberry to be bulky especially when compared to traditional candy bar and flip cell phone models. In a deliberate attempt to blur the boundaries between work and life, the Blackberry was reduced to “shirt pocket test” size in 2004 with the introduction of the 7100t through T-Mobile. Its claim to fame was the SureType keyboard upon which there were two letters on each key.
With the rise of Sprint and Verizon in 2003, demand increased for a CDMA version (Code Division Multiple Access), which is a channel access method utilized by various radio communication technologies. RIM then released the Blackberry 6750 for Verizon Wireless. It carried more memory than previous devices but more important than any options was the fact that at that time Verizon Wireless was the nation’s number 1 wireless communications provider.
The CDMA releases climaxed with the 7250 of the 7200 series, and these were the first Blackberry models to feature Bluetooth capabilities. Cingular had bought AT&T and moved into the number 1 wireless communication spot. In late 2005, RIM introduced the 8700 series, which competed with many other cool smart phones and pushed RIM to become cooler as well (sleeker in this case). By March of 2006, RIM subscribers numbered almost five million.
The Blackberry Pearl was released in 2006, popularized by its inclusive SureType feature. The big change here was the switch from the side scroll wheel to a trackball. The Pearl was small enough to begin this experiment, as anyone could operate the trackball while holding the device in one hand, much like people used the side scroll wheel with one hand. On 18 Dec 2008, RIM announced the number of Blackberry subscribers had reached approximately 21 million.
Our new president is among those many subscribers, although he feared he would have to give up his Blackberry upon his arrival at the White House last month. Concerns for email security relate to the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. If he maintains, as he hopes, a laptop on his desk in the Oval Office as well, he will become the first American president to do so.
According to Diana Owen, who leads the American Studies program at Georgetown University, presidents are not advised to use e-mail because of security risks and fear that messages could be intercepted.
“They could come up with some bulletproof way of protecting his e-mail and digital correspondence, but anything can be hacked. The nature of the president’s job is that others can use e-mail for him. It’s a time burner. It might be easier for him to say, ‘I can’t be on e-mail.’ ”
It looks like a compromise is in order and the president will keep his Blackberry with special encryption. Will Mr. Obama become the first president to fire off e-mail messages from the West Wing and wherever he travels? Will such action place him full square into the face of public scrutiny?
Of course, that’s politics.
At least with his Blackberry in hand, the 44th president of the United States will know first-hand what is going down at all times