Analysis: In Asia, BlackBerry's RIM sees a glimmer of hope

Wed Apr 18, 2012 2:36pm EDT
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By Jeremy Wagstaff, Asia technology correspondent

JAKARTA (Reuters) - 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.

But will it work?

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 BlackBerry platform 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.   Continued...

Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif poses with the newly launched BlackBerry Curve 9220 smartphone in New Delhi April 18, 2012. Research in Motion (RIM) on Wednesday launched in India what it called its "most affordable" BlackBerry smartphone, part of an aggressive push in one of its few growing markets. The new Curve 9220 is priced in India at 10,990 rupees ($210), higher than the price of Curve 8520, which is RIM's best-selling phone in India, and comes with an introductory offer to download free applications worth 2,500 rupees. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi