By Arup Chanda
KOLKATA, India, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- With plummeting market share around the world, BlackBerry is hoping that a new operating system, already late but due this year, will click among young people in India.
A decade and a half ago, when mobile phones had not yet invaded Indian lives, the hottest toy around in the U.S. was a pager-like device with a keyboard that anyone who considered themselves important carried around with them.
In planes, restaurants and movie theatres, investment bankers and corporate executives could be seen frantically typing away, trying to get their deals done. The device was made by Research in Motion (RIM), a company in Waterloo, Canada, and it revolutionized the world of communications.
Today, it is difficult to believe the grip that BlackBerry (BB) once had over the world. Its company has been floundering, its stock has tanked, its products are considered somewhat outdated and not in sync with the most important market segment fuelling smartphones--the youths.
Yet, while BB's market share continues to slide around the world, the one place that still holds a glimmer of hope for the phone maker, where it has traditionally done well and continues to have its fair share of fans, is India. The country also conveniently happens to be one of the fastest- growing markets for smartphones in the world, where its team has been selling up to 160,000 phones a month.
But, even here, RIM has slipped in share and rivals, such as Samsung and HTC, have gained.
India is a country where BlackBerry still enjoys strong brand equity. In Q1 2012, while global shipments of BlackBerry plunged 29 percent, in India, the slide was far less severe, declining from 15 percent in 2011 to 12.3 percent between January and March 2012.
RIM has realized that a younger cohort represents its best chances of survival -- the same cohort that is a die-hard fan of the kind of touch-screen user interface that Steve Jobs made ubiquitous around the world.
According to Nielsen Informate Mobile Insights released in August 2012, the incidence of smartphones among mobile phone users is higher among Gen Y, with 11 percent of all under-25 year-olds owning a smartphone, compared to six percent of all over-25-year- olds in urban India.
"In 2008, we had first realized that the adoption of smartphones is going to be the highest among the age group of 15- 24 years," Krishnadeep Baruah, RIM director for marketing, said. "We started the journey of focusing on the consumer segment from 2009, when BB launched retail and distribution presence in India," he added.
RIM's 2011 campaign in India was entirely youth-focused. Along with its vendor partner Vodafone, it aired the revived "We're the BlackBerry Boys" commercial, which shows that not just an executive in suit, but a trendy college boy also qualifies to be one of the "BlackBerry Boys".
For the first time, BlackBerry's devices were made more affordable. The campaign, which introduced entry-level devices priced between 8,000 rupees to 9,000 rupees (145 to 164 U.S dollars) apparently clicked well with its target audience. In Q4 of last year, the sales of BlackBerry picked, as it had strong partnerships with vendors.
Among the top 10 mobile handset vendors in the country, RIM had a market share of 4.7 percent and was in the fourth spot behind Nokia, Samsung and Micromax.
For every step forward, BlackBerry seems to be taking two steps back. According to Katyayan Gupta of Forrestor Research, "The initial success among the youth was mainly because of the BlackBerry Messenger services. But, they failed to go beyond it and offer other compelling services. Moreover, there are over-the- air services that let users have BBM-like service over any device anyway."
At the same time, Korean handset maker Samsung came up with compelling touch-screen products in its Galaxy series, Apple launched its iPhone 4 and Nokia tried to up the game with its Lumia series products.
Though the company claimed that during 2011-12 it had launched products in India, analysts like Gupta feel that "the lack of new products definitely hit BlackBerry."
Launched in 1999 globally and in 2004 in India, BlackBerry's enterprise solutions still command a loyal following among a significant chunk of the corporate crowd both in India and globally. Yet, even the enterprise segment of its business took a hit as the concept of 'bring your own devices' -- where employees were urged to bring whichever brand of phone equipped with whatever operating system -- became popular.
BlackBerry, for long, has been focusing on enterprise customers only, but in today's world, the line between the business customer and the individual user is blurring, Forrestor's Gupta said. " The company can no longer focus on one segment and leave the other, " he added.