I had an interesting conversation with an executive from Goldman Sachs at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday. He was juggling two phones, a new iPhone 6 and an old BlackBerry.
A lot of people here are conspicuously carrying two phones: an iPhone and a BlackBerry.
Davos may be the last remaining place on earth in which BlackBerry still has massive market share. UK Chancellor George Osborne uses a BlackBerry, too — he walked right by me, talking on it. (Here’s a picture of him, but he hid his phone as I took my shot.)
In an odd way, rocking the iPhone-BlackBerry combo is a way to send a huge signal about your status: Yes, you have the expensive new phone from Apple that everyone wants. But you’re so busy, so important, that you also need a phone with a real keyboard.
A member of the board of directors for a Middle Eastern central bank told me the keyboard was what kept him with BlackBerry. He isn’t just responding to emails with “OK” or “Tx.” He’s typing long memos to staff and colleagues.
An executive at a major aerospace manufacturer was rocking the big, square BlackBerry Passport that my colleague Mike Bird loves so much. I asked him why: security. His IT department requires BlackBerry for its employees because of the security. The guy from Goldman told me the same thing: The company still preferred its employees to use the BlackBerry because its security is superior to that of iPhone or Android. It wasn’t clear to me whether only Goldman’s European staff was still on BlackBerry, or whether the US people were on it, too. We previously thought Goldman began abandoning BlackBerry in 2013 when it let employees download a special secure app on iPhone that would allow employees to use iPhones as their business phones. A Goldman representative declined comment.
BlackBerry Messenger has, historically, been the preferred messaging service of many corporate IT departments.
The phone of choice at Davos this year is the iPhone 6. It’s totally dominant. Probably most people at the conference are carrying the new Apple phone. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is running second. But the BlackBerry is everywhere, too.
This isn’t surprising if you believe that the iPhone is a product for upper-income people and that Android is for the less well off. Davos, after all, is the conference for the 1%.
BlackBerry’s market share has fallen precipitously low, as it failed to move into the big, touchscreen world. The company guessed that people would always want a physical keyboard — and that guess turned out to be wrong. BlackBerry is now way behind the curve when it comes to phones.
So it’s weird to see execs from the most powerful private financial institution on earth whip out these relics from a bygone era, when BlackBerry bestrode the wireless telecoms earth like a Colossus. Davos is a ski resort, of course, so it’s almost as if everyone here has stepped into a hot-tub time machine and emerged in 2002.