You might not have known it, but BlackBerry’s instant-messaging service, BlackBerry Messenger, was down in many parts of the world over the weekend. The effects were perhaps felt most keenly in Indonesia, BlackBerry’s biggest market outside the US and Britain. The company apologized, but not before Tifatul Sembiring, Indonesia’s minister of communications, weighed in. “Mr. Sembiring said he is disappointed that the company did not notify its users sooner about the setback, and he added that BlackBerry sales have decreased by 70% in Indonesia,” reported TechinAsia, a blog, citing an article in an Indonesian-language newspaper.
That’s a pretty staggering claim, which neither TechinAsia nor Quartz could confirm. Other news reports from Indonesia however show that the ailing smartphone maker is indeed losing its shine in the one market it could count on.
Though BlackBerry accounted for a little under half of all smartphones sold in Indonesia last year—making it the clear leader in terms of devices—Android had already overtaken it as the most popular smartphone operating system by the second quarter of the year, and had nearly two-thirds of the market by the end of the third quarter. Samsung said it accounted for 80% of those devices. Now other manufacturers, like HTC, want a piece of the action. And with four out of five Indonesians still using feature phones, there is a lot to play for.
BlackBerry’s new Z10 phone was to be its great savior. Analysts at Macquarie Equity Research forecast sales of 100,000 units in the first six months after the phone’s launch in the middle of March. But with Indonesians expected to buy a total of about 8.5 million smartphones this year, in a smartphone market that is growing at 15% a year, 100,000 units is a drop in the ocean. Indeed, Blackberry is redoubling its efforts with the launch this afternoon of a new range of mid-market phones.
Moreover, one of the biggest advantages of having a BlackBerry used to be its free messaging service—the one that was offline this weekend. But the rise of other free messaging apps and the sheer number of such apps pouring into Indonesia means that BlackBerry Messenger is no longer essential. Today, in a last ditch attempt at keeping its messaging service relevant, BlackBerry announced it would offer it as an app, free, on Android and iOS.
So where does that leave BlackBerry in Indonesia? One hint may come from Batam, an Indonesian free-trade zone, near Singapore, which is popular with shoppers looking for a bargain. According to the Jakarta Post, prices for the Z10 at Lucky Plaza, the island’s biggest electronics mall, have been consistently dropping by at least 20,000 rupiah ($2) a day. Indeed, unhappy customers have been bringing the phone back.