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‘Blackberry Babes’ – Ailing RIM to seek salvation on African shores

Blackberry used to be the fruit on everyone’s lips – a sleek business tool in a time when business was good.  Now the mobile consumer seems to have been distracted by another fruit, bearing flashier looks, touch screens, fun apps and functionality to rival your PC.  The Blackberry Playbook didn’t help either – a confusing attempt at an entertainment tablet for a company we all associate with emails, starched collars and a 24hour work day.  With revenues falling and makers, Research in Motion (RIM), facing a dire financial situation, the ailing company is looking towards Africa to keep it afloat.

Blackberry babes

It’s not a huge surprise that business tools like the Blackberry are big business in emerging markets like South Africa and Nigeria.  Entrepreneurship, banking, foreign investment and let’s be honest, just plain showing-off, is the order of the day.  The smartphone is just as much a status symbol and demonstration of success as a car or house, and far easier to acquire.  The tiny keyboarded handsets have become old hat in Europe but remain the first choice in S.A. and Nigeria.  According to RIM, one out of every two smartphones in Nigeria is a Blackberry.  In fact, Africa’s most populous nation is so enamoured with the device that it’s become a pop culture fascination and even ‘spawned a popular local film ‘BlackBerry Babes’ according to the San Francisco Chronicle.  A scene in the Nollywood film sees a young woman pursued by a man to whom she replies, “If you really want to talk to me, get me a BlackBerry Bold 3 … then and only then, you can talk to me.”  It sounds comical but it’s not at all contrived or far-fetched.  Speaking at a press conference held in Nigeria on Sept. 25th, RIM’s African Regional manager, Robert Bose disclosed the company’s plans to boost sales and discussed the huge market share potential of the region.

Robert Bose, Blackberry press conference

Robert Bose, Regional Managing Director, Middle east and Africa – Blackberry press conference, Nigeria (sfgate.com)

According to fin24.com, Research in Motion announced a loss of ‘$235m in the past quarter’. Clearly they’re going to have to rethink their business model and they are.  Realising that they just haven’t been successful in the new smartphone consumer market with a heavy emphasis on applications and entertainment, the company is focusing on what works to save their business, concentrating on the regions that still give a damn and going back to their business roots.  South Africa, along with Nigeria is currently one of the main countries driving sales and this is where RIM needs to focus its energies. Chief executive Thorsten Heins said of the company’s strategy going forward, “We believe that BlackBerry cannot succeed if we tried to be everybody’s darling and all things to all people. Therefore, we plan to build on our strength.”

This will be good news for these regions that will probably reap the benefits of their long-time loyalty as reported on fin24.com -“This may result in better pricing, services and product offerings for consumers locally, as they aim to safeguard their strong market presence.”

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