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Is Indonesia still a safe haven for BlackBerry?

Edwin YappJul 23, 2013
  • Indonesia remains a crucial market for BlackBerry as strong ‘loyalists’ continue to power sales
  • But BlackBerry not expected to grow its market share; may slip further with more turning to alternatives

NEWS ANALYSIS As Canada’s iconic smartphone maker BlackBerry – once a dominant force in the smartphone world – struggles to turn its fortunes around, one country in South-East Asia (SEA) remains an extremely important market for the company outside of the United States, say industry watchers.
 
Indonesia, with its of population close to 232 million, has traditionally been a refuge for BlackBerry largely due to its dependence on affordable SMS and point-to-point/ group messaging provided by BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) services.
 
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the Ontario, Canada-based smartphone maker remains a vibrant operating system that accounts for 37% of the market share in this up-and-coming economic powerhouse in SEA.
 
The phenomenal rise of BlackBerry in the archipelago nation dates back to the early days of the smartphone boom – in 2007, when the then first generation Apple iPhone was still nascent. While every nation in SEA was flocking to the more stylish and hip iPhone, Indonesians then were somehow ‘immune’ to the marketing ways of Apple.
 
Sudev Bangah, associate research director and head of operations for IDC Indonesia, says that the BlackBerry was introduced into the Indonesian market at a time when the country was looking to join a globalised economy.
 
In an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), the analyst with the research firm says this phenomenon in turn spurred the need for connectivity and in tandem with the rise of interest in social media, made the BlackBerry a choice device due to its simplicity of connectivity and use for both social media and business.
 
“BlackBerry remains popular as there are hardcore loyalists [for BlackBerry] in the country, which will leap at anything the company markets.
 
“At the same time, BlackBerry has made good strides in the market by introducing lower cost devices, which have penetrated the middle- to lower-middle income group,” Bangah (pic) explains. “Indonesia remains a crucial market to BlackBerry, and essentially, it’s its older, cheaper devices that will continue to keep it afloat in the Indonesian market.”
 
Further driving this need for ‘simplicity of connectivity’ is the medium by which Indonesian mobile users crave for – instant messaging, notes Kristian Tjahjono, a tech blogger.
 
Also the chief editor of tech portal YangCanggih.com, Tjahjono believes the rise of BlackBerry in Indonesia is due to the various Indonesian mobile operators’ efforts in promoting value added services as a source of revenue besides the usage of SMS and voice.
 
This, he says, led to the forming of communities outside of tech-based ones, and has spurred engagement with existing non gadget-based communities.
 
“This was before BlackBerry paid any attention to the Indonesian market,” he told DNA in an email. “The real explosion [of BlackBerry] was when it launched BlackBerry Gemini (Curve 8520).
 
“The low price made it a no-brainer to purchase BlackBerry as a main or a secondary messaging phone. BlackBerry became so popular that some people only asked for BBM PIN numbers [a unique BlackBerry code that identifies its users] instead of phone numbers.”
 
Tjahjono points out the killer feature for many Indonesian subscribers is BBM, which he says is a result of the aggressive promotion of messaging over the years by mobile operators. 
 
“For example, businesses even put their BlackBerry PIN in advertisements and school moms form BBM groups to share homework and school-related information," he adds.
 
Besides the practicality of BBM, Tjahjono says BlackBerry is also a status symbol, increasing its user’s social status in Indonesia, and this indirectly contributes to its popularity.
 
“This is also the reason why the Porsche design version of BlackBerry Bold 9900, which cost US$1600 also retails here in Indonesia.”
 
But this is where the irony can been seen as the super rich Indonesian would not think twice about buying a US$1600 phone while the poorer working class would resort to applying for loans in order to own a lower-priced BlackBerry.
 
One such case, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, tells of how Sanuri, a 28-year-old, customer service technician at a Jakarta electronics chain, financed his purchase of his US$440 BlackBerry Torch when he only makes about US$160 a month, the minimum wage in the Indonesian capital.
 
Sanuri says his BlackBerry Bold 9900 is worth it as he relies on the free BBM service to keep in touch with colleagues and to schedule client visits.
 
“Everyone knows what the others are doing,” the father of one child told the news portal. Sanuri adds that despite retailers offering alternatives to the BlackBerry, he isn’t switching as he can get more benefits from BlackBerry and its services.

Next: Is Blackberry experiencing waning influence?

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