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Why Blackberry Remains Powerful In Indonesia, and How It’s Still Going to Lose

blackberry messenger problem

Credit: BlackberryCool.com

A lot of my friends have had their fair share of complaints about the Blackberry Messenger (BBM) service in Indonesia, especially about the service’s lagginess. But still, a lot of them are wired into using BBM every single day, despite strong competition from apps like Line, Whatsapp, WeChat, and KakaoTalk. How deeply rooted is BBM in the Indonesian messaging ecosystem? The answer might lie in its importance in people’s professions.

I asked a few of my friends from four different professions for a layman’s take on Blackberry and BBM. They’ve got some insights on how important BBM has become integral in their life and work, and yet how frustrated they are about it.

BBM at work

Blackberry is well known as the phone for enterprise and it is very true here in Indonesia.

A journalist friend of mine uses BBM every day, mainly because of the journalist’s BBM groups. Inside the group, they can get the latest news tips and other helpful information like sources’ contact info from colleagues and other journalists. A salesperson and an online merchant use it every day to communicate with their customers, as well as for advertising their products through BBM. Another friend of mine who works in an office uses BBM for business communication purposes.

They all tell me that their friends inside the same profession are using Blackberry phones for work. Even those who did not use Blackberry at first would eventually be forced to buy one to support their job.

It’s also quite normal for all of them to restart their Blackberry phones – running things like BB OS6 or OS7 – when the devices crash every now and then.

Interestingly, quite a few of my friends who use their Blackberry phones for work are also using an Android smartphone at the same time. They use the Android phone for messaging apps like Line and WhatsApp, particularly for their inner circles of friends.

People who don’t like their Blackberry phones

Let me break down a few insights I got from the interviews:

  • BBM has become deeply connected to people’s jobs, and it’s very hard to replace that anytime soon. Merchants and salespeople won’t ditch their exhaustive lists (which can reach over 1,000 contacts for some merchants) of customers on BBM, and journalists won’t ditch the chance to get valuable and timely information either. Those lists can’t be exported to the other messaging apps easily, and the network effect keeps people mutually bound to BBM groups right now.

  • A lot of Blackberry users are not satisfied with their phones. For example, my online merchant friend regularly resets his Blackberry phone twice a day, and my other friend’s phone crashes often, apparently because her call history is too full.

  • There’s a growing trend where people use another phone (most likely an Android phone) for personal usage, while using a Blackberry phone for work purposes. Messaging apps like Line, WeChat, and KakaoTalk are popular, and are perceived as working a lot better on Android – giving users things like animated emoticons and video calling. These tend to be used more for personal circles rather than work purposes.

According to a report from Arbitron Mobile, Line is currently the number one messaging app in Indonesia. While WeChat is gaining around 90,000 new users by the day in the country thanks to its new national TV ads. KakaoTalk, meanwhile, recently reported that it had increased its user numbers by 288 percent from January to February.

The allure of Android

So what will happen? The new Blackberry Z10 in Indonesia is battling against the Samsung Galaxy S3 (soon to be the S4, which will be launched later this month) and iPhone 5 for the country’s wealthier users. But they’re the minority of the populace here anyway. The majority of the population, who are in the lower-income demographic,would opt to purchase more affordable Android devices because they see that the OS, together with its apps’ ecosystem and games, outperforms Blackberry handsets in the same price range. Or perhaps they’ll buy older Blackberry models since there’s nothing for BB10 available at the usual cheap prices of below $200.

These people, targeted by national TV ads by Line and WeChat, will start to use those apps and find them more fun (so long as they switch to using those apps on Android or iPhone) than BBM.

Groups feature is the key to success

I think the groups feature will play a major role in defining which messaging apps will come on top in Indonesia. Those groups will only be made when people believe that there are enough members inside the messaging app and its ecosystem.

In the end, young Indonesians will choose to either buy a telco’s BBM package or the cheaper messaging apps’ package for various Android phones. And the transition starts there – leading to the point where, eventually, one of these apps and its groups function becomes a full-featured enough replacement for getting work done. That’s when the once irreplaceable BBM groups and communities will be dead in the water.

But perhaps we will see cheaper Blackberry 10 handsets unveiled before the end of this year. Can that be the saviour of the Canadian company? Maybe. But by that time, quite a lot of people in Indonesia might have transitioned to other platforms and other messaging apps. They’ve waited long enough.

I’d advise messaging apps vying for a place in Indonesia to start convincing communities, both personal and professional, to build groups on their platform. It’s the messaging secret sauce in this part of the world. And we understand that this is exactly what KakaoTalk and WeChat are moving towards in Indonesia.

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