Obama's got cred in Silicon Valley
The President's super-secure Blackberry may not be sleek. But Obama wins points for embracing technology.
SAN FRANCISCO (Fortune) -- Now that the inaugural balls are over, stylistas are pondering the symbolism behind Barack Obama's Hart Schaffner Marx tuxedo and Michelle Obama's Jason Wu gown. In techland, however, folks are focused on just one item: The BlackBerry.
That's President Obama's BlackBerry, and whether he'll keep it. The mobile e-mail device kept him plugged in during the campaign and the transition and burnished his image as the first Internet-savvy president, but in the buildup to the inauguration it wasn't clear whether Obama would hang onto it.
Former President Bush gave up e-mail completely based on Secret Service concerns that it could be hacked, but Obama has pushed the government to work around the security risks.
Obama's attachment to his e-mail has a particular resonance in Silicon Valley, where these days creativity seems to be fueled by mobile gadgets and instant communication as much as anything else.
During a chat with Fortune days before the inauguration, Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner zeroed in on the significance of the new commander-in-chief's desire to stay connected.
"Barack Obama is clearly a child of the Information Age, and the fact that he's comfortable and natural with that technology -- there are so many messages tied up in that, not the least of which is, this is a different generation," Rattner said. "It's so frustrating when you hear about some senior government official don't use computers, they have their staff print it all out. That's when you get government officials saying things like 'The Google' and 'The Internets.'"
Because Obama's worldview is so obviously influenced by technology, Rattner said, he has high hopes that his administration will embrace fresh ways of tackling the country's problems. "I have little concern that this administration's energy independence meetings will be stacked with oil executives," he said. "I think the people in the room will understand how technology is going to solve this problem, whether it's hybrids or electrics or just our obscenely inefficient energy grid."
But can Obama keep the BlackBerry? From all appearances, yes he can.
Various news agencies reported Wednesday that the new President will keep the device for personal use, though he'll be required to use the super-secure -- and super-clunky -- Sectera Edge for official business.
For those keeping score, the Edge is 1.3 inches thick and weighs 12 ounces, making it slightly heftier than two BlackBerrys duct taped together. On the positive side, the General Dynamics handset works on all the major global wireless networks, meets military ruggedness standards, and gets the NSA seal of approval for classified documents.