What a great time to have years of email expertise. :-)
January 14, 2001
A World Divided Into Two-Way-Pager
By DOUGLAS CENTURY
STAR JONES was camped
out in her usual seat in
celebrity row, courtside at a New
York Knicks game in Madison
Square Garden. Even as the
contest between the Knicks and
the Milwaukee Bucks went into
nail- biting overtime, Ms. Jones, a
host of "The View" on ABC, was
busily multitasking, flipping open
the silver Motorola Timeport
two-way pager in her lap and
tapping away with both thumbs.
Cheering boisterously for the home
team, she also conducted
conversations. She read an e- mail
message from Puffy Combs, checking to see whether she could make it
to his party that night. Then came a message from Derek Jeter, asking
the game's score.
Motorola's two-way pagers, which have boomed in the last year, have
about a million users, who busily thumb-type e-mail messages on the
keyboards of the clamshell device. Some of the most passionate are
members of the African-American elite in entertainment and sports. For
them, the cell phone is so last millennium.
"I'm much more effective than I was with a cell phone," said Russell
Simmons, once an infamous Manhattan cell-phone buff, now a convert to
the two-way pager. "E-mails are great, but walking e-mails are
Shaquille O'Neal, Ananda Lewis and Carson Daly of MTV and the
rappers Jay-Z and Eve are also Motorola pager devotees. Jay-Z even
includes an ode to his in his latest single:
Only way to roll
Jigga and two ladies
I'm too cold,
Motorola two-way page me.
Motorola's archrival is the BlackBerry, on which Vice President Al
was reported to have spent part of election night tapping and reading
messages, including one from Donna Brazile, his campaign manager,
urging: "Never surrender. It's not over yet." Mr. Gore, the nation's
unofficial technologist in chief, even in defeat, is the ideal
BlackBerry users, who are cultlike in their devotion, just as Mr.
represents the rival cult of the Motorola.
Two wireless systems, two passionate camps. The rectangular, rigid
BlackBerry is the choice of a high-tech and financial elite, including
Gates, Michael Dell and the investment bankers at Goldman, Sachs.
They would not be caught dead carrying a fire-engine-red or
Motorola Talkabout, which the company markets to young adults —
even teenagers passing e-notes in class.
"You have to understand that white-collar workers and politicians
want sexiness or cuteness — they don't want fashion," said James
Balsillie, the chairman and a chief executive of Research in Motion,
makes the BlackBerry. "Why does Al Gore live on his BlackBerry? He
needs something that's reliable, and he needs something that's
BlackBerry devotees insist they go for substance over style. "I use
BlackBerry over Motorola for the functionality," said James Andrews,
Internet entrepreneur. "For a lot of people who have Motorola, it's
first entry to an e-mail address. But I'm a techie. Motorola sort of
like a toy."
The Motorola cult has spawned a new urban lexicon. Hip-hop heavies
these days rarely say, "Give me a call." That's been replaced by, "Yo,
two-way me." Gone, too, is the exchange of business cards or scribbled
phone numbers, replaced by "Star Trek"-like talk of "beaming." Mr.
Simmons described a nightclub encounter with the actress and singer
Brandy. "Brandy walked up to me, put her pager next to mine, said,
`Good, now I have your digits, and you have mine,' " he said. "She
beamed it straight into my Motorola pager."
Leah Wilcox, vice president of player and talent relations for the
Basketball Association, said of the Motorola: "It's the device of the
league right now. Shaq has one, Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett. It's not
like a cell phone, where the service interrupts and you run into those
But Ms. Wilcox acknowledged that more serious techies in the N.B.A.
favored the BlackBerry. "It's whatever floats your boat," she said.
Dikembe Mutombo is a gadget fanatic, and he uses a BlackBerry. He
actually told me, `The BlackBerry's the better one.' "
Some of this division is the result of savvy marketing by the two
companies. Last month, Motorola and the Britto Agency sponsored a
Christmas party at Jimmy's Uptown, a new Harlem nightclub, where toys
were donated to the charity Catalog for Giving. Ms. Lewis of MTV, Eve,
Samuel Jackson, Puff Daddy, Latrell Sprewell and Al Sharpton mingled
over the Moët. The party was also meant to promote the new line of
T900 Talkabouts, a more mass-market unit sold for $199 (as opposed
to the older, more robust Timeport 935 at $399; both require monthly
service starting at $14.95).
Trend trackers like Mr. Simmons say that African-Americans have a
longstanding brand loyalty to Motorola, maker of the popular Star-Tac
cell phone. "As a brand-building community, hip-hop is so strong," he
said. "They built this brand. If Motorola denied it, watch how quickly
Rachelle Franklin, the director of corporate brand communications at
Motorola, said, "We certainly recognize and appreciate how brand-loyal
that particular segment is to Motorola," referring to hip-hop artists
their fans. "The entire Fubu organization, for example, uses our
She added, "What we've been able to do with this particular product is
see the trend and then leverage it."
Research in Motion has pushed no less aggressively to press the
BlackBerry into the palms of trendsetters in its perceived camp. The
company has contracts to supply its pagers ($399 to $499, plus a
monthly service fee starting at $40) to blue-chip companies like
Lynch and Goldman, Sachs.
"The corporate people are flocking to the BlackBerry," said Rikki Lee,
the editor of Wireless Week, a trade publication. "The BlackBerry
to be more heavy-duty e-mail applications than the Motorola pager. It
allows one to receive one's e-mail from the office, to interface with
software systems. It's more powerful and comparable to the Palm Pilot.
The Motorola is a simpler device, made for messaging on the go."
Don Longueuil, an analyst of wireless mobile services at the Yankee
Group, a consulting firm, said the BlackBerry scores higher for
encryption features to protect the privacy of messages, but Motorola
the bigger market share.
"In the United States, Motorola has 980,000 active subscribers for its
two-way messaging devices," Mr. Longueuil said. "The RIM devices
have 380,000. But that's just because Motorola's came out earlier.
RIM's catching up fast."
And the BlackBerry is not without its own glamour factor. Pamela
Anderson, in "VIP," her comedy action show, can be seen tapping on a
BlackBerry between karate kicks. Hollywood heavyweights like Matt
Damon and Ben Affleck also use the BlackBerry.
Some in the hip-hop world, meanwhile, find the BlackBerry too stuffy.
remember when Guy Oseary in L.A. gave all these executives
BlackBerrys and we used to laughingly refer to them as the white man's
pager," Mr. Simmons said. "He was giving them to Brad Grey and Bernie
Brillstein and those people." (Mr. Oseary is a record executive. Mr.
and Mr. Brillstein are the producers of "The Sopranos.")
Both devices appeal to gadget-crazy consumers who want their e-mail
anytime, anywhere, despite the awkwardness of tiny screens and tiny
keys. At least they both beat cell- phone e-mail, which is also
"It's completely changed the way folks communicate," Ms. Jones said.
"You have to make so much small talk on a phone call and go through
personal assistants. With the two- way it's an instant one-on-one
Motorola pagers are also having an impact in nightclubs. Jive Jones
relation to Star Jones), a record producer and recording artist from
Miami, swears by his Motorola 935 pager. He said: "If you want to hit
somebody in a club, you can't do it with your cell phone, because the
signal's not good. But what I like about them best — since everybody
my camp has them — if I'm talking to somebody that I don't want to
to, I can just page my boy sitting right across from me like, `Yo, get
out of this.' "
Mr. Simmons, while approving ads for the latest line of skimpy Baby
Phat denim shorts in his Phat Farm office, sat scrolling through the
2,000 e-mail addresses in his Motorola Timeport. "Your pager's only as
good as the numbers in it," he said. "How many numbers do you have in
your pager? And what are the quality of those numbers? I have
everybody from Minister Farrakhan to Pamela Anderson, from Anna
Wintour to Arnold Schwarzenegger."
Scrolling from the top, he read aloud: "Abel Ferrara, Ahmad Rashad, Al
Sharpton, Alan Edwards, Alan Finkelstein, Allen Grubman, Allan
Houston, Alan Patricof . . . " He paused at Mr. Patricof, a venture
capitalist, remembering he had to send him a greeting. "Alan, happy
Year," he typed. "Sorry I missed you in St. Barts."
Though he is a Motorola devotee, Mr. Simmons announced last week at
the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that he was going into
partnership with VTech Connect Ltd. and Shared Technologies Cellular
to produce telecommunications products, including phones and two-way
messaging devices. "Our two-way's going to be called the Rush
Communicator," he said, predicting it would be on sale by June.
Will rap kids switch brand loyalty from Motorola to Mr. Simmons's new
"The thing about hip-hop is that they love great products," he said.
Rush Communicator must simply be better and more efficient, with
details that make it special for the hip-hop community."
Some who have sampled both Motorola and BlackBerry say that each
has its strengths and weaknesses. John Borek, managing attorney at the
law firm of Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson, is an anomaly,
carrying both. "I tried not to carry two things — I feel nerdy
Mr. Borek said. But he decided he needed the BlackBerry for its e-mail
capability and its "antivirus firewalls and security," which safeguard
"But the problem is the service with the BlackBerry," he said. "There
a lot of annoying outages in the system. The Motorola is a more
paging device. I have a staff of 10 litigation people, often running
town serving subpoenas and digging up court records, who don't need
these more powerful BlackBerry features."
Instead, he said, their hips are adorned with Motorola's Talkabout
pagers, less robust in features and less expensive.
"Mine is in sexy, elegant black," Mr. Borek said, laughing. "It's very
and neat, and listen — it makes this nice authoritative pop when I
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