The BlackBerry, once so addicting people called them “CrackBerries,” has taken a mighty fall in the U.S. as it was replaced by more nimble and appealing touchscreen phones running Android and Apple’s iPhone.
It was a fall as rapid as it was tremendous. Less than a decade ago, BlackBerry was the definition of a smartphone. In August, ad network Chitka has found that RIM’s share of the mobile Web usage market dropped from five percent at the end of 2011 to just over one percent at the end of July 2012.
As sexy as the Apple iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S III may be, it took a few screw-ups from RIM as well. It clung to the tiny screen and physical keyboard far too long and was very laggard in updating its operating system. Until its BlackBerry 7 operating system last year, the web browsing experience on a BlackBerry was almost universally regarded as slow and generally pitiful compared to the competition.
Its PlayBook tablet failed to live up to the expectations despite some very glowing reviews, and the company is almost a year late at delivering a significantly revamped operating system, BlackBerry 10, which is viewed as the firm’s last chance to survive.
And yet, BlackBerry thrives… in corners. Its U.S. market share may have gone from 44% in 2009 to 10% last year, according to NPD Group, but the company still has 78 million active subscribers worldwide.
The Washington Post notes that Africa, particularly Nigeria, loves its BlackBerries.
Another nation that loves BlackBerry is Indonesia, where the company once held 45% of the market. However, just last month, it lost that top perch to Android phones, according to IDC, because of their affordability, broad range of applications and growing popularity of touchscreens.
What made BlackBerry so popular in these two nations and elsewhere is the BlackBerry Messenger network (BBM). BBM gave people a chance to bypass expensive SMS plans on telcos in these countries, many of which are just now getting to 3G technology.
“BBM is very important. There’s lots of use in Latin America, Africa and Indonesia. It’s become a critical sort of component of their offering. The keyboard still has a lot of preference in these countries. If you can use BBM, a keyboard is important. So that’s keeping folks,” said Will Stofega, program Manager for mobile device technology and trends at IDC.
Stofega said another advantage for BlackBerry is its phones cost less and many of these countries don’t subsidize the phones like in the U.S. “The fact the iPhone is out there and it’s not subsidized in these countries puts the iPhone out of reach of most customers,” he said.
But Indonesia shows that even the strongest markets don’t last. Stofega said RIM needs to execute on its new generation of phones to keep what it has and reverse their losses here.
“Their problem is the need to execute. We had some good conversation with them, looked at the new OS. The new device and the new OS are pretty nice. They just need to get them out and make sure they have a strong launch. At the end of the day, it’s important that they get it right,” he said.