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BlackBerry’s Struggles in the Nigerian Smartphone Market

31 Jan 2013

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Since the introduction of android powered smartphones like the Galaxy S3 into the Nigerian market last year, there has been a drop in BlackBerry sales, writes Ojo Maduekwe

Battle of the Giants

Judging from the numerous phone names, one can conclude that the phone market is a worldwide playing field, big enough to fit as many companies as there may be. When specifically considered, this may not be the case for the smartphone market, currently being dominated by Apple, Samsung and Research in Motion (RIM).

There was a time RIM, makers of BlackBerry smartphones, dominated 50 per cent of the market, while Apple and Samsung slacked behind. Not anymore. In the last three to four years, BlackBerry phones have witnessed dropping sales in major markets of the United States and Europe. The same thing is now being witnessed in Nigeria.

Currently, the smartphone market is dominated by Apple and Samsung, which are respectively dominated by their iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 smartphones. But while Apple and Samsung hold the majority in the smartphone market, they are also suing each other over patent and copyright concerns, providing BlackBerry with the chance to, maybe, catch up.

Network Misconception

Some subscribers have complained that poor network services from Nigerian telecommunications companies was frustrating their use of BlackBerry phones, and was the cause for some Nigerians recent preference for other numerous smartphones in the market.

Although network services have been really frustrating for a country that ‘likes to talk’, an expert said this is far from the reason why BlackBerry sales in Nigeria was dropping while “being challenged by both the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy”, and a wide range of other smartphones flooding the market.

 “I don’t think that’s absolutely true, ” said Sales Manager, Mizbeach, Ifechukwu Amobi.

Amobi added: “I mean people still use the same network providers, bad as they may be for the new smartphones. I believe people are making the switch based on platform. Android is a better platform and offers more interesting features than the BlackBerry platform.”

Declining Sales

About the plunging sales in BlackBerry phones, Amobi believed this to be true. “Before, when you have 10 people come to buy a phone, about 7 would ask for a BlackBerry, but lately, it’s a 50/50 case of buyers asking for the different smartphones.”

This slacking trend for RIM is not peculiar to the Nigerian market, but occurs worldwide. By 2008, the company was atop the mobile smartphone world with their revolutionary phones.
Present day reality is that the company has witnessed a massive layoff of employees, and a plummeting stock value.

Once, the share price for the company was valued at $8, but thanks to the upcoming BlackBerry 10, the share price has increased, although subscription remains down by nearly a million.

Overseas, the brand power of BlackBerry has also been plummeting. Once it was seen as a status symbol for the elite. In recent times, iPhone and Galaxy have taken over that privileged spot. Not long ago, there appeared a horrible review of BlackBerry in the New York Times, describing the phone as “a source of embarrassment to its owners.”

The article said that although BlackBerry still dominated the smartphone markets in countries like “India and Indonesia, but in the United States the company was clinging to less than 5 per cent of the smartphone market – down from a dominating 50 per cent just three years ago.”

Uniqueness of Nigerian Market

Early last year, a National daily had reported a 2.4 million subscription mark for BlackBerry Nigeria.
Speaking with Sales Manager for Seaman Phones and IT Centre, Nelson Ogbeide, said he was positive that BlackBerry still topped the market.

“It can be said that BlackBerry sales are dropping as a result of the takeover by Android-powered smartphones but the BlackBerry smartphone is still the hottest device.”

To buttress this point, he said Seaman, which sells and services phones, laptops, cameras, and accessories, particularly sold more BlackBerry than iPhone and Samsung, between November  1 to  December 31, 2012.

 In Nigeria, sales may be dropping, but when it comes to market dominance, there is an  indication that BlackBerry still sits atop the smartphone market.

Business Development Manager at Gidimall, an online retail shop, Austina Ohakwe,  said BlackBerry remained the smartphone market leader in Nigeria.

The online store founded in 2011 by a team of bankers, IT professionals and logistics consultants only recently began selling phones on its site. According to Ohakwe, “From the time we started selling phones on our platform, we have gotten more enquiries concerning Samsung phones, than BlackBerry phones.”

PTV Phones IT Manager, Kayode Oke, said the Android platform generally used by most smartphones to be the main cause for the “slight” drop in BlackBerry sales, but believed “BlackBerry is still selling more than other smartphones in the market because of the standby, and on-the-go social network applications. Not to mention that BlackBerry is faster due to their use of a separate Operating System (OS).”

Power of Pinging

Naturally, you will think that the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), a unique feature of BlackBerry phones would be a reason for people to stick to the brand. Although in the United States and Europe, they have found other ways of chatting, using the iPhone and Galaxy, Nigerians remain addicted to the BBM.

“Maybe not in other parts of the world, but in Nigeria, people are still stuck to the whole idea of the BBM functioning as a community that helps people connect and communicate 10 times faster than any other device available in the smartphone market,” said Ogbeide.

For Akintunde, whose challenge with a BlackBerry phone can only result to his getting an advanced version, the BlackBerry device is more than a leisure phone. “I use a BlackBerry because it’s mobile business tool. It contributes to my business development and through the BBM, helps me keep in touch.”

Ohakwe said: “Although the BlackBerry is losing its dominance in the Nigerian smartphone market, since everyone seems to be about the android phones these days, but then I doubt it would be quick to get rid of BlackBerry for the simple reason that it provides a cheap way to communicate.”

The New BlackBerry 10

Although BlackBerry is facing a serious threat, Oke believed it had the joker to make this nightmare go away with the new BlackBerry 10. He believed that with the Blackberry 10, people would love BlackBerry again. “BlackBerry 10 is a smartphone that works like a BBM and an Android put together.”

Worldwide, while Apple and Samsung hold the majority in the Smartphone market with their respective flagship devices – namely the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3, the two giants are nonetheless busy in court. While they continue to dispute, RIM was working on the new BlackBerry 10.

According to techradar.com, “BlackBerry 10 sees the implementation of a whole new user interface, with RIM doing away with the familiar BlackBerry system we are all used to, in favour of something which resembles the likes of Android and iOS, although with its own unique features.”

The BlackBerry 10 is an operating system, a foundation for an array of smartphones that may include BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry X10. In an effort to make sure the BlackBerry 10 operating system is fully tested and ready on release, RIM has delayed the release date several times. It was eventually launched yesterday.

The devices were once rumoured to arrive mid last year, but later postponed to 2012 ending. Again it was moved forward to the first quarter of this year. The chief executive of RIM accounted for the delay thus: “We’re not just building an update of Blackberry 7, but a whole new mobile computing platform.”

A move to retain its subscription and possibly win that of other smartphones, the BlackBerry 10 platform is supposed to be familiar for Android, iOS and Windows phone users, because RIM seems to have taken inspiration from all the major platforms and added their own features.

Imagine a BlackBerry, iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 fused in one phone? Will this be the joker RIM needs to get back to the top of the market? Only time will tell.

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, BlackBerry, Nigerian Smartphone Market

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