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

Enricko Lukman
Enricko Lukman
3:00 pm on Mar 5, 2013

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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Have Your Say
  • JustinThomson

    Yeah I don’t think ill be moving from one of the most reliable secure messaging platforms to one owned by a Chinese spy agency. . BTW you forgot to mention in your article that bbm will now have more features including bbm money, bbm voice, bbm video, bbm screen share. The other platforms will always poor buggy imitations.

  • Enricko Lukman

    Hi Justin,

    You’re right, I haven’t addressed them on the article. So I will put my two cents here.

    I do not account much for the BBM video and screen sharing because those are exclusive Blackberry 10 features and those devices will become minority here for quite a while. So those features won’t change a lot of dynamics here just yet.

    Blackberry’s biggest users here are the middle to lower segment of societies who are still using the legacy BB handsets.

    ###BBM Voice

    A lot of them aren’t using BBM Voice just yet. Here’s why:

    They don’t use BBM Voice because it’s a hassle that they need to find wifi connection first, or because they fear using the BBM voice feature can increase their BB lagginess, or they don’t even know much about BB’s latest updates. All in all, not a lot of middle class people feel that the BBM Voice will be able to keep them glued to their BB phones just yet. A lot of my friends aren’t using the feature.

    It’ll be even harder for lower segment people to find wifi… or if they are accustomed to connect their phones to wifi… or have the habit to have the latest BB updates. Though those are still debatable, it is mighty hard to find free (or affordable) and reliable wifi in their community. And again, other messaging apps like Line and KakaoTalk have the free calling feature without the wifi requirement on Android.

    ###BBM Money

    The one that might be a game changer is the BBM Money. As I’ve mentioned a lot of merchants are depending on BBM to communicate with a lot of their customers. It still remains to be seen if people are opening their Permata bank accounts and are willing to go to the bank’s branches to start using the BBM Money feature. So far cash on delivery is still very popular payment method.

    And… adding the fact that quite a few people don’t bother too much in updating their BB phones with the latest update and features… I’d say that the BBM Money adoption would still take some time to happen too.

    The one’s that gonna take Blackberry down is in the end… the device’s hardware problems. The existence of affordable Android phones with more games and app ecosystem help too.

  • JustinThomson

    I think your missing the point BBM is evolving, while others are still trying copy a 7 year old innovation. Middle and upperclass will use these new features when they stop by a starbucks or at their hotel in bali.

    Also many of your criticism addressed in your article have been addressed with BB 10.

    1) With Blackberry Balance, you can have your secure buisness bbm contacts and also have your personal messaging for your inner friends on the same phone. No need for two devices.

    2) Phone crashes are a things of the past, QNX runs bb10 it is exceptionaly stable and reliable thanks to its neutrino micro kernel architecture. thats right no more battery pulls.

    3) Android Apps. with bb10 its is easy to bring android apps to blackberry, they launched with 70000 and have the big devs committed. Its so easy to bring an app to blackberry that users are no longer waiting for developers to launch them instead they are porting it over themselves such is the case of instragram. Soon 100% of bb10s will have Android 4.1 Jelly Bean player running. Only 14.9% of android devices currently run that, thanks to androids fragmentation.

    Many other things will bring blackberry back such as the fastest webrowser and the best onscreen keyboard. There are 6 phones in the pipeline this year, so expect the low to middle class to get their model as well. Plus blackberry has shown a williness to license this OS to other companies, I wouldn’t be suprised if some low end models will be made by a korean company.

  • http://www.mobile88.co.id Jimmy

    I happen to be in Jakarta and have noticed a lot more people using iPhones (more so than androids) than the last time I was here.

    I agree with the author that features such as blackberry voice and such are not killer features but merely “nice” additions to have to a fully functional OS. Though fully functional is not something you’d probably use to describe the BBs of old. As much as compatible android apps, bb voice, etc are nice to have, BB has to get its basics right – the constant battery resets, the lag, the battery life.. It won’t count for anything if these fundamentals arent in place.

    Having said that, I have played with the z10 briefly and I must say it is a fantastic piece of technology. Regardless of whether its popularity wanes in Indonesia or not, i will definitely look forward to getting one

  • Enricko Lukman

    Hi guys,

    Interesting discussion we have here!

    Four big points are being addressed now:

    1. BBZ10 looks like a great handset. A few people who’ve used the handset testified that it doesn’t have the usual problems they faced from the previous BB versions. A few of them who’ve seen and used the phones have only praise for the device. So far. And the OS will also be able to play Jelly Bean Android apps too!

    2. no cheap BB10 devices this year by the way, so the price bracket will cater more to the middle and higher folks -http://cafenegritude.blogspot.com/2013/02/there-are-no-cheap-blackberry-10-this.html

    3. BBM groups remain number one in Indonesia. The country is still a Blackberry nation today and can still be one tomorrow.

    4. People are using two devices at the moment anyway (Blackberry and either Android or iPhones? mostly)

    What will happen?

    Rich folks will upgrade their BBs anyway, and their opinion will play a big part in convincing the middle class folks to upgrade their BBs too.

    Many middle class don’t have the same luxury like the rich ones. They’ll need to choose which device they want to upgrade (either BB or the other one). A lot of them can’t afford the luxurious Z10 or Q10, and may need to wait for a while to purchase budget BB10 devices later this year. By that time, a few of them might have decided to upgrade their Android instead like at the current Mega Bazaar Computer 2013.

    However, if the BB10 is as great as a few people say it is. And can support Jelly Bean by that time. There is always a chance people will even sell their Androids to purchase BB10 as their sole primary device. This all depends on the opinion and testimonies given by the first BB10 adopters in the country of course.

    All the skepticism people have on Blackberry can change if they’ve seen, used, and heard positive reviews about the device first-hand. We will see how that plays out in the coming months.

  • @Jimmy

    iPhones big in Jakarta? Really? I was there just a few months ago and I see TONS of BBs and Samsungs… And not many iPhones, or stores catering to their users.

  • James

    I think BBM money could be a game changer here, successful roll out in Indonesia will see it spread to other strong Blackberry using countries like Nigeria and India.

    I’m not based in Indonesia so wondered if you guys know how BBM Money is doing?
    Is there an advert on TV to gain take up?

  • Enricko Lukman

    Hi James,

    I believe BBM Money is being advertised on a big billboard just outside the Pacific Place Mall, in front of another important business center BEJ (Microsoft, Ernst and Young, and a lot other important offices take place there).

    So yes, BBM Money is being advertised, but I’m not sure if a lot of people are activating their accounts just yet.

  • http://dhezign.com Brian Arfi

    Don’t forget, changing habits is WAY harder than creating technology.

    so… while i see that BBM Money is great, it still acts as a ‘wallet’ This is the biggest barrier i see. Unless we see country wide adoption (unless BB provides incentives for merchants, not only online, but offline also), then it will just play out like the other wallet type payment solution.

  • James

    Thanks Enricko,

    Mpesa in Kenya is working very well indeed, no reason why Blackberry can’t do a similar thing in Indonesia. I’ve watched the demonstration video of BBM Money, it really couldn’t be much easier plus it’s done under bank grade security. Blackberry have to get the advertising right to get the ball rolling, once away it will gather speed.

    I expect friends will tell friends turning it Viral. Other bigger banks will join in time so I suppose success could be judged on the next affiliated bank. I’m not sure how exclusive this system is to Blackberry but it will surely help them keep dominating the Indonesian market for at least this year and depending on take up, many years to come.
    I’m live in the UK, we have a phone number p2p system that’s going to be launched early 2014 but I think Visa with V.me will beat them to it this year.

  • James

    I notice that BBM money now has 50,000 users, not bad going. The target is 200,000 users by the end of this year. I also notice they are about to launch the second phase. Have you heard much Enricko?