Sun, Mar 23, 2014 - Page 13 News List

BlackBerry faces blow as Obama mulls new brand

FINAL FALL FROM GRACE:Samsung or LG may enjoy a huge publicity coup if Obama opts to trade in his beloved BlackBerry, long the secure choice for the US government

The Guardian, LONDON

US President Barack Obama is considering ditching his BlackBerry for a rival mobile phone brand, in what would be a symbolic blow to the struggling Canadian handset maker.

The White House Communications Agency (WHCA), which provides communications systems for the president and the secret service, is considering switching from the keyboard-based device that the US president has used since he was a US senator to a touchscreen handset. According to reports in the Wall Street Journal, products by South Korean technology groups Samsung and LG are being considered.

For BlackBerry, the incursion of Samsung or LG into the White House would be the final fall from grace. The company has plummeted from its once-essential position among government and business users because of its encrypted e-mail system to become a lossmaking also-ran.

In November last year, it had to raise US$1 billion in debt financing after an attempt to engineer a sale failed and then-CEO Thorsten Heins was jettisoned in favor of industry veteran John Chen.

The company is due to announce its fourth-quarter earnings on Friday, having recorded net losses of US$5.5 billion over the previous three quarters on revenues of US$5.8 billion.

For Samsung or LG, a switch would be a huge publicity coup. Samsung is the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer. Although Obama uses an Apple iPad for some activities, there is no indication that the WHCA is considering an iPhone for his use.

If Obama were to give up his BlackBerry, he would be following millions of Americans who have fallen out of love with what was once the most popular smartphone in the US. In September 2010, there were 21 million BlackBerry owners in the US — but by January this year, that had fallen to fewer than 5 million, according to research company ComScore.

Obama has been an affirmed BlackBerry user for at least a decade, but after becoming US president in 2008, he had to give it up briefly for a secure Sectera Edge phone specially created by the National Security Agency. That was quickly replaced by a customized BlackBerry with software called SecureVoice developed in conjunction with the agency.

BlackBerry said that for more than a decade, it had been securing the US government’s mobile communications.

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