Perhaps no other phone maker has had such an unswerving, loyal fan base as BlackBerry in India, especially those in the business arena who are addicted no doubt to hard-buttoned keyboards and the much-cherished BBM messaging service.
Yet, these fans, much like their brethren around the world, have been forced to switch to other options for sheer lack of choice, amongst other issues. In the case of India, this has meant opting for the one of the ubiquitous inexpensive and feature-packed Android smartphones that lord over the Indian market with over a 90 percent share.
The fact is, BlackBerry just hasn't been innovative enough to attract Indian customers with cheaper options in the fastest-growing smartphone market in the world.
Instead of launching a diverse range that included some cheaper options to cater to younger audiences with smaller wallets, BlackBerry instead offered up the Z10, priced at about $700, and then the Q10, at around the same price. Even today, the supposedly youth-targeted Q5, priced close to $330, is at least double what it should be to lure even the most high end of this cohort who have already begun swooning over the Moto G (at $200, which I wrote about here).
No wonder, then, that BlackBerry's market share reportedly plummeted from 14.8 percent in the April to June quarter in 2010-11 to 7 percent a year later, and finally to an unimaginable 0.6 percent in the quarter ending September 2013, according to market tracker CMR.
This seemingly spells armageddon for a company that was once a major contender in the phone business.
So, it should come as a huge relief for BlackBerry fanatics that the company intends on bringing its Z3 smartphone to India. Originally devised for Indonesian customers, the company now thinks that the Z3 may just be the electroshock therapy that the company needs to salvage its fortunes here. It is a touch smartphone featuring a 5-inch display, and comes with BlackBerry 10 OS version 10.2.1. The phone will be launched in April in Indonesia first, and then will be rolled out to other markets in Asia.
Responding to a question by Business Line, BlackBerry's executive chairman and CEO John Chen said, "It will be attractive to go to India with the under $200 phone. At least, we will be competitive. I know you can buy Android phones at less than $75, but given the features and security packed into our phone, we can be competitive below $200."
Another strategy — smart or desperate, depending on how you read it — has been to drop the price of the Z10 by over a staggering 50 percent, to $300, a great deal for customers, considering that they will be getting a 1.5GHz dual-core processor with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, an expandable memory card slot that supports up to 32GB of additional storage, a 4.2-inch capacitive touchscreen display with 1280x768 pixels, an 8-megapixel primary camera, and a 2-megapixel front camera, according to this report.
These are positive moves, but BlackBerry and its Indian owner, Canadian fund manager Prem Watsa, will have to work very hard to claw back share with a service that apparently has limited and lower-quality apps, especially given it's going head-to-head with a dazzling array of Android phones and resurgent brands like Nokia, which is launching an attractive array of widely priced phones across operating systems.