x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

iPhones lose cool as bankers kick CrackBerry habit

BlackBerrys stand to become the phone of rebels everywhere.

Let's see those carrier pigeons find me on the back nine at Yas Island Links.
Let's see those carrier pigeons find me on the back nine at Yas Island Links.

For the past two years the banksters have ruled the world, brought it to the brink of ruin, and emerged not only unscathed, but in many cases, with bulging pockets and bigger bonuses. Can nothing derail them? Now at last they look like they have been cut down to size, and by an unlikely source. When the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority ruled that Research in Motion, the Canadian-based manufacturers of the BlackBerry, must either make its data available to the authorities or it would suspend their services, the banking industry must have taken immediate notice.

For the BlackBerry is the device that most defines the past two years. No trader, banker or hedge fund fellow is far from his "CrackBerry". I know frustrated wives who have picked up the machines and hurled them into swimming pools during summer holidays. These are not unattractive women, but they felt they could no longer compete with the little black beeping device. Now a BlackBerry is about as desirable in this country as a sub-prime mortgage. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the chap who wrote in a letter to this paper admitting that he bought a BlackBerry a few days before the suspension was announced. He reminds me of one of those soldiers who got shot on the last day of the First World War.

What will become of banksters now? How will they communicate with their peers? How will they get through lunch? I hear that some canny firms have already equipped their staff with iPhones. Standard Chartered has handed out hundreds of the cool gizmos to its staff. Now instead of sending out classified messages to each other, the bank's workers can download all the songs they used to sing along to in their youth. This at least prevents them from causing stock market panics.

Most of the bankers will struggle to operate an iPhone anyway, even if they can get a signal. One executive of my acquaintance wails that his "thumbs are too big". I recommended that he turn the device sideways, but bankers are very methodical fellows, so I doubt whether he feels he can do this until instructions come from the chief executive or the human resources department. You might think this uncertainty would all be good news for Apple, but I suspect the reverse might be true. Once the pinstriped brigade starts using a product, almost inevitably it sheds any pretence of cool. In fact, it becomes distinctly uncool.

Imagine, for a moment, that Robin Hood had lived in the age of the smartphone. Until last weekend, he would have communicated with Little John and Maid Marion on his iPhone. They would share songs and photos of the Sheriff of Nottingham in absurd poses. But now any outlaw worth his salt would want a device that has been outlawed. BlackBerry, for so long so uncool, is suddenly developing a bit of street cred. Che Guevara, if he were still alive, would communicate with Fidel Castro on his BlackBerry Storm.

My teenage children, arbiters of cool in south London, are already on to this. They have avoided the iPhone, plumping instead for the charms of the renegade BlackBerry. What they like is the instant messaging system, that means they can exchange pointless chitchat, rather like bankers, with their peers. They can create groups so that wherever they are in the world they can simultaneously receive messages such as "what u doin?"

There is of course a third player in this phone war. It is Google's Android. As far as I can tell, nobody knows anything about this, but even so it is selling well, especially in the US. One of our telecoms men got hold of a device. He was terribly excited and showed us all one of its features with much glee. What he did was to take a picture of something, a water bottle for example, or a book. Using some internal trickery, the phone could then tell you all about the book, and even connect you to Amazon so you could buy a copy. This was all marvellous, although I did point out to him that as we already had the book, maybe we did not need another one.

If I had my way, I would ban all communication devices bar the carrier pigeon. The only messages I ever receive are either from my wife, demanding why I am somewhere or with someone I shouldn't be, or from my boss asking why I'm not on the same golf course as him. If they had to go to the effort of first writing out a message by hand and tying it to the foot of a pigeon, then unleashing the poor bird in the hope that it might find me somewhere on the golf course, I suspect they wouldn't bother.

This would be good news for me, because there are few things more irritating than a "ping" in your pocket when you are lining up a tricky left to right-breaking putt, or a bird fluttering around on your backswing. rwright@thenational.ae