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Obama can't have an iPhone. The reason might (not) surprise you! (+video)

Obama bemoans ban on a presidential iPhone. It's just one more thing over which he has no control.

By Staff writer / December 5, 2013

Apple iPhone 5C phones are pictured at the Apple retail store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York in this September 20, 2013 file photo.

Adrees Latif/REUTERS/File


President Obama is not allowed to have an iPhone. That’s what he told attendees at a White House Youth Summit on Thursday, anyway.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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The troubled mobile phone maker BlackBerry still has at least one very loyal customer: US President Barack Obama. At a meeting with youth to promote his landmark healthcare law, Obama said he is not allowed to have Apple's smart phone, the iPhone, for "security reasons," though he still uses Apple's tablet computer, the iPad. Obama fought to keep his BlackBerry after coming to the White House in 2009, though he said only 10 people have his personal email address.

The subject came up while he was talking about the price of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.” He noted that between cable and phone bills many young people are paying more than 100 bucks for connectivity, and that health insurance at the same price is a good deal.

Then he said, “Now, I am not allowed, for security reasons, to have an iPhone,” adding that Sasha and Malia seem to be spending a lot of time on their own presumably Apple-produced mobile communication devices.

That means Mr. Obama still uses a government-issue BlackBerry. There’s one customer, Research In Motion! Maybe the troubled Canadian BlackBerry maker can spin that into a holiday ad of some kind, perhaps with Bo the "first dog," if he’s done upsetting White House Christmas parties.

Anyway, we think this complaint says something about Obama’s relationship to his job. Pro tip for journalists: Always pay attention to government sources' jokes and offhand comments. They’re usually a window into what they’re thinking.

Thus our first reaction: The White House is indeed a gilded cage. No iPhone? It sounds trivial, but it’s a symbol of the lack of control presidents have over their own personal surroundings. He (or she, eventually) can’t pick out his own phone, his own car, his own schedule – even, often, his own dinner companions. This is a truism about America’s first executive that George Washington discovered, and it has grown ever since. At least the Secret Service keeps office-seekers out of the White House now – their importuning used to be the bane of Abraham Lincoln’s existence.

Secondly, so what? BlackBerrys are better for what presidents actually do. Speaking as a member of a mixed Apple/RIM household, Decoder notes that iPhones are great entertainment devices. They have access to a gazillion apps, of which approximately 100 are useful. The rest are the kind of thing that is fun for several days and then sits forgotten, like the light-up tie your kids gave you for your birthday. Beyond that, iPhones are uncomfortable to speak into and difficult to message on, given their on-screen keyboards.

A BlackBerry, on the other hand, is a perfectly fine phone on which to get updates on "Obamacare" enrollment from your terrified minions. And its physical keys are a much more accurate way to type out crucial messages to Vladimir Putin. We don’t want an embarrassing auto-correct to affect relations with Russia, do we?

Finally, if security really is the problem here, we know a computer consultant who just might be able to lock up an iPhone so well that even the National Security Agency couldn’t crack it (as it apparently did with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone).

Anybody got Edward Snowden’s e-mail?


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