Tuesday, August 3, 2004

BlackBerry sticks with consumers

Corporate executives find devices addictive

Click here to e-mail James
Remember getting busted for reading a comic book in class? Or for passing notes, and the embarrassment of having them read to the class when you were caught?

Those days are here again, thanks to what is becoming the ubiquitous BlackBerry (www.blackberry.com).

For the uninitiated, the BlackBerry is basically a PDA that keeps your schedule, contact list, to-do list, and so on, on a device slightly bigger than a standard cell phone.

But more important, it also can receive regular e-mail wirelessly, freeing users from the tethers of either their office PC or a laptop.

And it can triple as a regular cell phone.

Paul Grone, vice president of infrastructure management at Kroger, has had his BlackBerry for a year.
(Enquirer photo/MEGGAN BOOKER)
This has created quite an addiction. Some people have even taken to calling them "CrackBerrys" because of the inability of users to put them down anywhere, whether at home or in an important staff meeting when the teacher, er, boss is writing on the blackboard.

"Some people were leery of them at first, but now they say that I'd have to break their arm to take them away," says Paul Grone, vice president for infrastructure for Kroger, where 100 workers now use a BlackBerry with another 100 on order.

"It is very, very addictive, because it grounds you and keeps you connected," he said. "And that keeps you in the loop, and you never want to get out."

Canadian firm Research In Motion (www.rim.com) makes BlackBerrys and is starting to turn heads on Wall Street as well as throughout the tech world.

Using primarily word of mouth for the devices, RIM turned a $55 million profit for its fiscal first quarter ended May 29.

The company now boasts about 1.3 million BlackBerry subscribers, signed up 270,000 new users just last quarter. It's slowly taking market share away from Palm or Pocket PC PDAs as well as laptop makers. Many users say they will sit at their desks and use the Blackberry for e-mail, while their desktop computer sits idle.

And the addiction can hit anyone in any profession. I've seen them in the halls on Capitol Hill in Washington - the company provided free devices to all members of Congress after the 9/11 attacks.

My kids' pediatrician just signed up to use them throughout his office to access patient records more efficiently. Lawyers seem to be especially susceptible to this disease, especially since they can read attachments such as Word or PDF files even in the middle of a court session.

Even some local politicians are hooked.

BlackBerry "I used to come home from night events with my pockets filled with little notes for things to do from constituents," Cincinnati City Councilman Pat DeWine says. "Now I can send an e-mail at night at an event when someone comes up to me and complains about trash pickup or something like that on the spot.

"But I will say that it is hard to not drift off to checking e-mail during long meetings, and I am at a lot of meetings where people talk a lot."

As for Kroger's Grone, he says the devices are being given to executives as well as members of the labor negotiating team to keep in instant contact.

"I can say personally that it saves me at least an hour a day that I used to spend just dealing with e-mail," he says. "Now I can do two to three at a time when I'm sitting on a bus to the airport, or at lunch or wherever."

The devices cost $199 to $450, depending on whether you want a cell phone built in and a service plan. The service generally costs $30 to $50 a month.

Rob Porter, who sells the devices through his Northern Kentucky chain called The Wireless Store, says demand is exploding for the device, even though RIM has not really advertised much.

Leo Chan, product manager for Cincinnati Bell, said 40 percent to 50 percent of new business signups have been BlackBerrries.

"It's like an adult instant messaging device," says Chan, who acknowledges being an addict.

But there is a backlash.

Tim Burke, partner at the Clifton-based Web site development firm Electronic Art Internet Solutions (www.electronicart.com) , said his wife hates his BlackBerry.

"She calls it a raspberry and worse," says Burke, who has had his device for three months. "But the feeling of being too connected is a syndrome of this day and age. Some of us bring it upon ourselves, and this device, while enabling me to give better customer service, certainly does keep me too connected at times."

Chan and Grone say that while no official bans have been imposed on BlackBerrys during staff meetings, that day is coming.

"We're probably going to have to do that during the next few months," Grone says.

Speaking of addictions ... : How many of you are planning to buy Doom 3, which went on sale today? How many of you have the system requirements to run it? How many had to upgrade your computer or buy a new PC? Looking to run the answers later this month. Just e-mail me.


E-mail jpilcher@enquirer.com

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