* BlackBerry’s days are numbered

Business Report Thailand, June 2011

If you believe the most optimistic estimates floating around, there are 1.5 million smartphones in use in Thailand and 500,000 of them are BlackBerrys.

Software developers and telecom staff doubt there are quite that many smartphones or BlackBerrys. Perhaps there are only 1 million smartphone users. But observers all agree on one point: BlackBerry is the most popular smartphone brand in Thailand. (RIM, the Canadian company that produces Blackberrys, has a regional office in Singapore but declined to make an estimate.)

Interest in developing apps for the BlackBerry is nonetheless slender. If a company is committed to creating an application for all operating systems, it will get to BlackBerry eventually, but that isn’t the first or even second system in the queue.

The skepticism about BlackBerry’s future stems stems partly from the kludginess of the operating system, which developers and analysts worldwide think will soon be outpaced by the superior iPhone, Android and Windows 7.

Then there are the reasons BlackBerry has done so well in Thailand as well as Indonesia. Prices for a handset are below THB 10,000 on the grey market, which is at least half the price of an iPhone and about the same as local smartphone brand Spriing and Taiwan’s HTC.

The clincher for Thai and Indonesian consumers has been the reasonable prepaid monthly packages that include unlimited text messages. In Thailand a package costs less than THB 600 per month. Unlike SMS messages, these are conveyed by the internet. However, BlackBerry users tend not to browse the Web or use the other internet-enabled features that telecom operators would so dearly love to charge for.

Users of other smartphone brands and operating systems in Thailand probably don’t use many of their internet options either.

Many of BlackBerry’s most visible users, such as students and female office workers, are a fickle lot. “Some say that Thais change their mobile phone every eight months,” said Freewill FX’s Nuttapon Boonpinon. Moreover, loyalty to the BlackBerry phone hasn’t transferred … MORE

This was a sidebar accompanying a cover story I wrote on Thai smartphone app developers. It appeared in the June 2011 issue of Business Report Thailand. Fast Company in April 2012 ran an analysis of BlackBerry’s decline followed by more interesting comments from Mark Lambert and others. Note that the analysis is written by a marketing man indirectly flogging his services. Then there’s the stock analyst’s sobering perspective. WSJ‘s July 2012 tale of Nokia’s decline is interesting too.

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