Belinda Goldsmith and Paul Sandle London
If you want to know how BlackBerry lost its mojo in a major consumer market, spend some time with a bunch of British teens.
The phone that once so dominated the UK youth market that its BBM messaging service was even blamed for helping to connect young rioters who fought police and wrecked shops in London and other cities in 2011, has now lost its cool.
BlackBerry has been usurped by Apple and Android-run phones, and BBM has been eclipsed by the emergence of free messaging apps that work across a range of devices.
“I use WhatsApp and Kik with all my friends and family. You can use these on any device even if you can’t afford an iPhone,” said 14-year-old Euan McPhillips from Gerrards Cross, just north of London.
WhatsApp and Kik Interactive are two of five big cross-platform messaging services that have built up big followings and are also being tipped as the next big takeover targets.
The others are WeChat in China, developed by Tencent; South Korea’s KakaoTalk, run by privately held Kakao; and Japan-based Line, a unit of Naver of South Korea.
The group’s grandfather, WhatsApp, created by two former Yahoo engineers in 2009, had more than 300 million users and processed 31 billion messages a day, a spokeswoman said. That compares with BBM’s 10 billion messages a day.
BlackBerry’s image has taken a big hit as a result, underscoring the challenge facing the consortium led by its top shareholder, Fairfax Financial, which agreed to take the firm private on Monday in a $4.7 billion (R46.3bn) deal.
An annual CoolBrands list released this week showed BlackBerry had plummeted to number 180 in the list of the UK’s coolest brands from fourth place three years ago.
BlackBerry established itself by being seen in the hands of lawyers, bankers and politicians and became the smartphone of choice for British teenagers and young adults.
It held 35 percent of the UK market for those aged 16 to 24 early last year, according to Ofcom data, beating Apple and Android, but fell to 17 percent a year later while Apple and Android had 40 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
Facing the loss of a key demographic, BlackBerry announced it would make BBM available for Android and iPhone, but, in another stumble, the roll-out was paused on Saturday after an unreleased version of the BBM for Android app was posted online.
“Everyone has moved on from BBM. iPhones are more reliable and you usually get unlimited texts with an iPhone contract. The screens are bigger, the apps are better, so why would you want a BlackBerry?” 17-year-old London student Freya Bowen said. – Reuters