It’s no secret that BlackBerry is facing challenging times amidst the ever-growing competition in the wild smartphone industry, and there are fears that the ill-effects of this saga would spill over into the Middle East.
However, its top official in the region has a message: don’t worry; we’re doing fine here.
“I think we’re doing great here [in the region]… we know for a fact that the BlackBerry brand is still strong here and that people continue to love it,” Nick Horton, BlackBerry’s managing director for the Middle East and North Africa, told Khaleej Times in an interview.
“The news that are coming out of our [Waterloo, Ontario] headquarters on what’s going on in North America doesn’t reflect what’s happening in the Middle East… we’ve managed to maintain our share of the market here and we are going to do what we can to continue that.”
Horton — who was previously based in Singapore handling South-east Asian markets — says that his BlackBerry team based in Dubai is “bright and strong”, and has managed to maintain the brand’s strength throughout the years.
“I’ve got the right blend of professionals working here… and they know the market very well,” he said.
Horton has figures to back it up; citing data from the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, or TRA, BlackBerry has two smartphones in the TRA’s top-10 list. He also mentioned that a recent report from market research institute GfK showed that BlackBerry is the No. 3 and No. 2 best-selling smartphone brand in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, respectively.
So, what exactly is BlackBerry doing right and it has maintained its loyal base here in the Middle East?
“I think it’s because of our fantastic relationship with operators and distribution partners here,” Horton said. “The BlackBerry brand is still a desirable brand and we continue to reinforce that.”
We’re just bringing things that are really, really successful in the region and we continue to see that exist.”
Horton says BlackBerry continues to have a strong portfolio, both on its hardware and software fronts. Sales of its recently-launched suite of OS 10-powered phones — the Z10, Q10, Q5 and most recently the Z30 — plus the OS 7-based 9720, have been doing well in the Middle East, especially in the UAE.
“Sales just keep tugging away… and it’s consistent sales,” he said.
He pointed out that BlackBerry — despite the competition — still has those edges that its users continue to patronise, such as Arabic-use adaptation, browsing and typing experience, and — most of all — its iconic BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM service.
And speaking of BBM, Horton assured that with the service’s roll-out into rival platforms — Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android — he says that this cross-platform move will be a “pretty revolutionary engagement” for users of BBM.
“We’re going to make sure that the user experience [of BBM on other platforms] will be the best as it can be,” he said. “We want to double the number of BBM users.”
One issue that is always being mentioned regarding BlackBerry is the lack of a wide range of apps, especially those that are vastly popular in other platforms. But this seems to have been addressed; a very recently, another BlackBerry Middle East official confirmed to Khaleej Times that the app count on the BlackBerry AppWorld has now shot up to 140,000.
“I think we have an amazing app line-up,” Horton said, giving emphasis to local app developers that make localised content.
He says that BlackBerry does “everything we can locally” to develop the app community here through engaging with them. He cited that holding events such as the BlackBerry Jam are a key driving force towards achieving this goal.
With regards to the BlackBerry PlayBook — the company’s only tablet device which got a software update recently — he said that there is something in the works, although he declined to elaborate.
“Our focus will be on our smartphones, so watch the space,” he quipped.
Horton also said that BlackBerry will be having its biggest participation ever at the ongoing Gitex Shopper 2013, and for the first time the brand will have its own stand that promises to give a unique experience to visitors. As for Gitex Technology Week, which will take place from October 20 to 24, BlackBerry will be having a “massive stand”.
“We’re putting in a huge participation and we will give a really great experience to our customers,” he said.
Horton says that the Middle East continues to be a growth market for BlackBerry, and that the company wants to continue that success.
“We’ve managed to build a brand in a proposition that really appeals to consumers and has durability to it,” he said. “Looking forward, we want to focus on our core strengths… and continue to evolve our hardware and software.”
Next year, Horton says BlackBerry will embark on a mission to expand its existing customer base further and catch more of the market by offering new devices.
Drawing comparisons to his previous area of assignment, he says that just like Asian consumers, people in the Middle East like to engage in tested and trusted brands such as BlackBerry.
“What we can do here is continue the stuff that we’ve been doing really, really well … we want to continue our success,” he said.
“We want to show that the BlackBerry brand is still successful and we will continue to maintain that… that shows how important the Middle East is for BlackBerry as a whole.”