BlackBerry risks losing one of its best-known customers, Barack Obama

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 12:17am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 12:17am


US President Barack Obama is considering swapping 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, 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 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 email system to become a loss-making also-ran.

Last November it had to raise US$1 billion in debt financing after an attempt to engineer a sale failed and Thorsten Heins, its chief executive, was sacked in favour of industry veteran John Chen.

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

For the makers of Samsung or LG equipment, a switch would be a huge publicity coup. Samsung is the world's largest smartphone manufacturers. Although Obama uses an Apple iPad for some activities, there is no indication that an iPhone is being considered 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 five million, according to research company ComScore.

Obama has been a dedicated and loyal BlackBerry user for at least a decade but, after becoming president in 2008, he had to give it up briefly for a secure Sectera Edge phone which was especially created by the National Security Agency.

That was quickly replaced by a customised 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.

"Only BlackBerry is designed to meet the high-security needs of US and allied government agencies," the company said.

A big concern for the US security agencies would be to make any phone that the president's family was to use completely secure against any form of hacking attack.

Ex-US president Jimmy Carter says posting letters is safer than e-mails

Former US president Jimmy Carter says he uses "snail mail" to evade monitoring by the National Security Agency and feels such surveillance methods have been abused.

"When I want to communicate with a foreign leader privately, I type or write a letter myself, put it in the post office and mail it," Carter said with a laugh, as he was questioned on the matter on NBC's Meet the Press. "I have felt that my own communications are probably monitored," he said on the show.

A trove of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have sparked outrage in the US and abroad about the vast capabilities of America's intelligence programmes.

Officials have defended the methods as necessary to thwart terror attacks, but President Barack Obama has ordered reforms in the wake of the disclosures.

Asked whether the programmes were necessary, Carter said he thought they had "been extremely liberalised and, I think, abused by our own intelligence agencies".

"I believe if I send an e-mail, it will be monitored," he said.

Agence France-Presse