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Will Obama dump his BlackBerry for the iPhone?

U.S. President Barack Obama checks his BlackBerry while walking with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett towards the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, May 4, 2010.

Larry Downing/REUTERS/Larry Downing/REUTERS

When Barack Obama insisted on keeping his beloved BlackBerry when he got to the Oval Office, it was heralded as a moment of change, another defining difference between the tech-savvy new president and the Luddites he was replacing.

"I'm clinging to my BlackBerry," he said before his 2009 inauguration and the president-to-be got his way with the Secret Service. A special BlackBerry cleared security hurdles.

Pictures of Mr. Obama as digital slinger with his BlackBerry holstered on his belt or reading emails were everywhere and – not surprisingly – delighted Research In Motion Ltd., the-then high-flying, Canadian maker of the iconic device.

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There were late-night riffs about Mr. Obama and his Blackberry; even a book of imagined presidential messages.

A year later, Mr. Obama joked it was "no fun" because only a handful of people were allowed to ping him and no one sent him ribald messages because they knew they would "probably be subject to the presidential records act," and could be made public.

Still the president was often seen checking his BlackBerry.

But change changes.

Blackberry's status is waning in the corridors of power and on Capitol Hill.

"The President still carries a BlackBerry," says Maggie Fox of the National Journal, which published a revealing survey this week of the shift in digital tastes. "Apple and the makers of other smart phones have quickly caught up and figured out how to make those email connections secure," she told National Public radio.

On Capitol Hill, where BlackBerrys were in the hands of 93 per cent of staffers in 2009, a significant majority – 77 per cent – still thumb the tiny keyboards.

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Smartphones are rapidly catching up.

iPhone use was up to 41 per cent among Capitol Hill staffers this year; more than triple the level of three years ago.

The really grim news – at least for BlackBerry – is that less than one per cent of respondents said they planned to buy another BlackBerry.

In Washington's watering holes and at expensive restaurants where lobbyists power lunch, Droids and iPhones are obviously making inroads.

The National Journal survey also charted shifting trends in social media. For instance, given a range of choices in 2009, respondents overwhelmingly dismissed Twitter as "pointless babble."

It has since gained considerable credibility as a news feed, especially among Capitol Hill staffers.

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And while the president was once a pioneer in the digital trek that transformed Washington, at least some members of the first family have been left out. The president's daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama have been forbidden from having Facebook pages. No word on whether they have iPhones or BlackBerrys.

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About the Author
International Affairs and Security Correspondent

Paul More

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