- By Katelyn FossettKatelyn Fossett is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy. A native of Kentucky, she has previously written for the Inter Press Service and Washington Monthly. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University.
The tentative $4.7 billion deal to take BlackBerry private may have only been announced on Monday, but for many Americans it was a long time coming. In the United States and Western Europe, Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android have come to dominate the smartphone market, while Blackberry has been lapping up less than 2 percent of the American market and has seen its share European markets decline steadily over the years. But there are some corners of the world where BlackBerry’s fall may come as more of a shock — particularly in the emerging economies of Southeast Asia, where BlackBerry has its strongest market presence, or in the several African and Latin American nations where it remains the top smartphone. Here are some of the countries where the BlackBerry still enjoys superstar status.
Indonesia: Smartphone users in Indonesia represent almost 20 percent of BlackBerry users worldwide — no small feat given that only one in five Indonesians had a cell phone five years ago. BlackBerry’s market share jumped from 9 percent in 2009 to 47 percent in 2011 in Indonesia — while dropping from 53 percent to 13 percent in the United States over the same period. While the company is losing ground, especially to cheaper local and Chinese brands, a BlackBerry is still considered a status symbol in Indonesia. Last year, a 28-year-old customer service technician from Jakarta told Bloomberg Businessweek he took out a loan from his employer to buy a $440 BlackBerry phone. He made only $160 a month.
Nigeria: Roughly a sixth of Africa’s 620 million phone subscribers are Nigerians, but in a country where most people live on $2 a day, the vast majority of them still use cheap Nokias. Of Nigeria’s four million smartphone users, 46 percent preferred BlackBerry in 2012. As in Indonesia, BlackBerrys have become status symbols in the country, even becoming the focus of a Nigerian movie last year called "BlackBerry Babes" about women who woo men into buying them a smartphone.
South Africa: A May 2013 survey in South Africa’s Sunday Times found that BlackBerry still ranked as the "coolest" brand among young people in the country. BlackBerry Internet Service, which provides unlimited browsing and unlimited chat through BlackBerry Messenger for a flat rate of around $6 per month, is a key factor behind the smartphone’s popularity in South Africa, where it controls 70 percent of the market.
BlackBerry has carved out a robust market presence in these countries (and others in Latin America including Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Venezuela) primarily because the sheer price of iPhones and Androids is out of reach for typical consumers. Even the recently released iPhone 5c, which was supposed to appeal to emerging market consumers, comes with a $549 price point — which analysts expect to rise even further with import taxes.
Under these circumstances, the cheaper BlackBerry — primarily the Curve models, which can often be bought secondhand for as little as $50 — has been better equipped to edge out iPhone and Android competition in lower-income countries. Additionally, BlackBerry’s messaging system, BBM, is cheaper than a text message, and the BlackBerry’s RIM network, offers a more reliable connection in areas with insecure telecommunications infrastructure.
Increasingly, however, BlackBerry’s main competitor in emerging markets is not the iPhone or the Android, but rather cheap Chinese smartphones from ZTE and Huawei Technologies that are making serious inroads in African and Asian economies. As it restructures, will BlackBerry focus on regaining U.S. and European market share — or staving off encroaching competition in the developing countries where it’s still king?