In Asia, BlackBerry’s RIM sees a glimmer of hope

JAKARTA: The launch in India of a new BlackBerry by Research In Motion Ltd is not just a nod to its lower-end users who love it less for its security, push email and seamless roaming than for its simplicity and its Messaging. It’s a strategy the Canadian company hopes will help fill both a hole in its balance sheet and a half-year wait for its next big thing – the BlackBerry 10 platform. The handset itself won’t impress devotees: its main selling point is a dedicated side button that lets users chat over its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and a built-in FM radio, which lower-end Nokia phones have had for a decade. It works only on the slower 2G networks, and the camera isn’t that great. But, RIM says, that’s the point. RIM calls it a parallel approach: building the high-end next generation platform and devices, while coming up with cheaper phones that can prod some of the vast majority of its users to trade up. “We’re really trying to build on and help those people who are moving from feature phone to smartphone. We believe we can be successful in that,” Patrick Spence, RIM’s global sales chief, said in a telephone interview. It’s a smart move, some analysts believe, given RIM’s position. Adam Leach, principal analyst at research company Ovum, said there is a misperception that RIM’s bruising experience in North America will be repeated elsewhere. RIM’s strength, he said, is being able to offer lower-end users a better experience on a slow connection than the equivalent Android handset. RIM launched its new handset, the Curve 9220, in India on Wednesday, with other markets to follow. A RIM spokesman said the company would launch in Indonesia, one of its most lucrative markets, in the coming weeks.  “Their success in Indonesia shows they have other attributes and capabilities in the BlackBerryplatform globally that appeal to different markets rather than just the high-end, mature markets (like North America and Western Europe),” said Ovum’s Leach. RIM doesn’t break down its sales by region, but has reported that sales outside the U.S., Britain and Canada accounted for 68 percent of total revenue in its fourth quarter, up from 61 percent in the previous three months. Those markets include India, South Africa, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, which RIM says are all targets for this year’s sales blitz. But understanding why a market like Indonesia works – and then applying those lessons elsewhere – is not straightforward. Slamet Riyadi, a 30-year-old office boy in Jakarta with a wife and two young children, shifted to BlackBerry from Nokia two years ago. He owns a Gemini 8520 which he bought new for about $200 – about two months’ salary. He keeps his old Nokia to communicate with his family by voice and SMS, but loves his BlackBerry for staying in touch with friends and colleagues. He dreams of owning an Onyx 2, which would cost upwards of $350, but the reality is that he must soon sell his BlackBerry to pay for his daughter’s schooling.