Can BlackBerry hold on to its market share in the Caribbean?

The recent prolonged outages of BlackBerry service is one of many recent trials that Research in Motion is facing.  The company is rapidly losing market share in the US and other countries. Is this outcome likely in the Caribbean?

Over the last several months, there has been constant chatter among industry pundits of the impending demise of the BlackBerry. They have been criticising, among other things, the less than stellar smartphone and tablet offerings, along with the fact that Research in Motion (RIM), the manufacturer of BlackBerry, has not adapted to toady’s market (see BlackBerry: are we witnessing the end of an era?). However, the recent and lengthy outages worldwide have exacerbated matters for RIM, which is already under considerable pressure to raise its game. This post outlines some of the challenges being faced by RIM/BlackBerry worldwide, and key factors that might still be working to the company’s advantage in the region.

BB Bold 9780 (Source: Digicel)

Challenges that RIM is facing

In previous years, the BlackBerry was considered the leading smartphone, due primarily to its email handling capability and advanced security features. However, competing smartphone manufacturers have made considerable strides to improve their device offerings and capture market share. Compounded by rigorous competition, RIM is facing a number of challenges, some of which are outlined below, which ultimately has the company fighting for its survival.

BlackBerry is becoming less competitive. Relative to its main competitors, Apple and Google, RIM’s products appear to be a bit out of step with customer demands, which generally prefer phones that:

  • are more affordable and user-friendly
  • support mobile applications, that have an extensive applications library
  • have solid web browsing capabilities.

As a result, the company has experienced considerable loss of market share over the last three years. However, the news is likely to get worse … At the Gartner Symposium 2011 held last week, Enterprise Management Associates announced, based on its research,

“that 30 percent of BlackBerry users in companies with more than 10,000 users will move to a different mobile platform in the next year… Today, 52 percent of users in such organizations “actively” use a BlackBerry for work purposes, EMA reports; a 30 percent reduction would bring that total to 36 percent” (InfoWorld).

Implications of October outages. During the week of 10 October, BlackBerry users worldwide experienced outages that affected email transmission, use of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) along with other data services. By the end of the week the problem was more or less rectified, but the damage was done.

Security backlash. A continuing selling point of BlackBerry devices over other smartphones is its enhanced security features, which includes encrypted transmission of all communication. Although this feature was highly welcomed, particularly in corporate circles, some countries are demanding access to those transmissions. Also, following the UK riots in August, where BBM and social networking sites were alleged to have fuelled the unrest, there was some clamour for the British government to ban BBM, among other things

Positive factors for RIM in the region

Based on current trends, industry experts generally agree that RIM/BlackBerry is in trouble, but anecdotal evidence suggests that might not necessarily be the case in the Caribbean. A few factors that have contributed to BlackBerry’s continued and significant market share in the region are outlined below.

Popularity of BlackBerry. In the Caribbean, BlackBerry has been and continues to be widely popular, not just as a smartphone, but as the mobile phone of choice. Further, the classical aesthetics of the Blackberry phone, with its full QWERTY keyboard, which also makes it ideally suited for text messaging, appears to be the preferred option within the region.

Popularity of BBM. Unlike most social networking platforms, which allow public or open communication, BBM is a similar but free service. Further, thanks to the considerable number of BlackBerry customers within the region, access to BBM has become a definite pull for initially purchasing a BlackBerry phone and for continuing to use that device.

Android and iPhone are not being promoted. Although Android and iPhones are generally available across the Caribbean, there is a sense that they are not being as well promoted as BlackBerry. Admittedly, however, BlackBerry has had a considerable head start, having been around for at least the last five years. As a result, the average person might still consider BlackBerry’s QWERTY models the standard of what a smartphone should look like, especially since RIM has only recently released devices with touch screens.

BlackBerry in the developing world

Based on the major trade publications, the general sentiment is that the BlackBerry brand might be too badly damaged, particularly in developed countries, for it to recover market share. However, the BlackBerry market still appears to be growing in developing countries.

It is interesting to note, that in the press release issued by RIM in early October announcing the launch of BlackBerry Bold 9900, BlackBerry Torch 9860 and BlackBerry Torch 9810 in the Caribbean, the company was quick to highlight that “[t]his is the largest global launch of new BlackBerry smartphones in RIM’s history…”. This seems to suggest that RIM might be hoping, at least for the next several months, to continue to capitalize on BlackBerry’s popularity in developing countries in order to sustain the company as it attempts to reposition itself in the global market.

Based on the limited attention being given to the iPhone and Android-powered phones in the region, this strategy could succeed. However, noting our propensity in the region for “newer and better things”, RIM might find its foothold in the Caribbean somewhat tenuous if an aggressive marketing campaign is launched by any of its key competitors.