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Can RIM persuade Indonesians to keep loving their BlackBerrys?

Impatient Indonesians rush to the queue line to buy the new BlackBerry 9790
AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana
Ah, the heady days when people still jostled to buy BlackBerry’s phones, never mind its shares.
By Naomi Rovnick
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The gym inside Royal Condominium, an upscale apartment and leisure complex in Medan, a fast-growing city on the island of Sumatra, has a safety problem. People are reluctant to let go of their BlackBerrys while they exercise. At the start of spinning classes, instructors say, “Remember to drink water, and no BBM!”

That Indonesians try to use the free BlackBerry Messenger service while stationary-cycling is testament to how much many of them love their BlackBerry smartphones, however much maligned the device now is in the developed world. Minimum-wage workers like BlackBerrys as much as Royal Condominium’s upper-class spinners. In Medan’s biggest mall, the Sun Plaza, staff in the numerous mobile phone shops proudly fiddle with their own phones while they work.

But the BlackBerry’s dominance in Indonesia could be slipping. Android phones, particularly ones made by Samsung, have jumped in popularity.

Indonesia’s response to today’s launch of Research In Motion’s (RIM) new BlackBerry 10 devices could well be the acid test for whether the company’s fortunes, so weak in rich countries, can recover in emerging ones. RIM has chosen Jakarta as one of several launch cities, alongside New York, London, Paris, Dubai, Johannesburg and New Delhi.

Last September, consultants IDC said the BlackBerry was Indonesia’s most popular smartphone. But in terms of operating systems, Google’s Android has already shunted BlackBerry into second place. And Samsung claims to have won 80% of the Android smartphone market.

RIM has done well in Indonesia by co-ordinating with local carriers to offer cheap messaging and social media packages. These have proven popular in  a country where decent home broadband can cost $100 monthly but the minimum wage is $220 or less. Indonesia’s largest mobile phone company, Telekomsel, sells a BlackBerry deal (link in Indonesian) offering free messaging, Facebook and Twitter access and limited internet browsing for approximately $7 a month.

But local carriers now offer cheap Samsung deals, too. Telekomsel sells an internet plan for the Samsung Galaxy for 49,000 rupiah a month, or around $5.

And Samsung has really cheap smartphones. The Galaxy Y sells for just over 1 million rupiah ($100).  That could well be cheaper than the new BlackBerry Z10 phone, which is rumored to be priced at $149.

Revealingly, Samsung Indonesia’s mobile division vice president, Andre Rompis, told reporters earlier this month that sales of the Korean firm’s cheapest smartphones were growing the fastest. People are commonly upgrading their “feature phones” (more basic gadgets) to entry-level smartphones in Samsung’s range, Rompis added. The BlackBerry will have to both remain cool and get cheaper to beat that.

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