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Durban - If you hang around with iPhone toting geeks and read a lot of overseas tech news, you’re probably convinced that BlackBerry and Nokia are the dead men walking of the mobile phone world. And with some justification.
Stock of BlackBerry’s Canadian parent company, Research in Motion, has plummeted to record lows following a double whammy announcement in June of disastrous quarterly earnings and that it had postponed till next year the long awaited October launch of its new mobile operating system, OS 10, a release many were touting as BlackBerry’s last hope.
Finland based phone maker Nokia is also on its last legs, if articles like this one from Bloomberg last week are your only source of information: “Nokia’s debt, already at junk status at the three biggest rating companies, was cut two additional steps by Standard & Poor’s as the unprofitable mobile-phone maker loses market share and burns cash.”
But what all this global gloom belies is just how extraordinarily well these two brands are doing in many developing countries, South Africa included.
According to a recent study, Nokia remains far and away the most popular cellphone brand among South Africans.
The study, conducted by technology research company World Wide Worx with the backing of First National Bank, shows that Nokia maintained its market share over the past 18 months. In mid-2012, it held precisely 50 percent of this market; at the end of 2010, the figure was 51 percent.
Nokia is expected to remain the number one cellphone brand in South Africa through to the end of 2013, but with a slightly diminished market share.
BlackBerry has flourished, with its market share rising from four percent to 18 percent. It has drawn level with Samsung, which has fallen from 28 percent to 18 percent in the last 18 months.
“As in other developing markets, the demise of BlackBerry in this country remains a myth,” says Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx. “BlackBerry’s continued strength lies in its appeal to the younger market, with the Curve models maintaining a ‘cool’ image. In the 16-25 age group, the brand has 28 percent market share.”
According to the study, a further 16 percent of cellphone users say they intend to buy a BlackBerry next. As Goldstuck points out, actual behaviour tends to fall short of intentions, but this still suggests strong brand momentum.
BlackBerry also remains dominant in the smaller, but rapidly growing smartphone segment of the local market.
Industry data collected by World Wide Worx shows that, of a total of around 10 million smartphones sold in South Africa, about 4.8 million are BlackBerry devices. Nokia is a close second, with around 4 million. These are mostly devices using Nokia’s Symbian operating system, while its new Lumia phones have not yet made a significant impact.
Contrast that to smartphones running Google’s Android operating system – mostly from Samsung and HTC – which amount to a paltry 800 000, while the iPhone has moved fewer than 400 000 units, or just 1 percent of market share in South Africa, proof says Goldstuck that it remains “a toy of the elite”.
What I find fascinating about BlackBerry’s resilience is that even people who don’t consider it cool are still buying them.
A tech-savvy friend who, until recently, has always bought the latest and best smartphone now owns a BlackBerry, not for its apps or camera which he describes as “c**p”, but because no other phone keeps him in touch with his family abroad and with business contacts as well as it does. This is thanks to BBM, the messaging service that allows unlimited texts between BlackBerry owners for a fixed monthly sum.
Such is the allure of plugging into the BBM-connected in-crowd that even my son, who considers the BlackBerry handsets available in his price range “lame”, still wants one, even if it means settling for a hopelessly outdated and clunky BlackBerry Curve 8520 as his first phone. Although he may have been saved from this fate in the nick of time by the arrival of the newer Curve 9320, that comes with 3G connectivity and a 3 megapixel camera with flash. - Sunday Tribune