MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines, along with the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, will remain a key market for Canada’s Research In Motion as the struggling smartphone maker attempts to regain market share in the critical North American region, the company’s chief said.
In a briefing late Friday evening, RIM chief executive officer Thorsten Heins also expressed satisfaction at how countries in Southeast Asia have adopted BlackBerry devices, making the region one of the few bright spots on the company’s sales map.
Heins and RIM’s top executives have been on a four-week worldwide road show, meeting with heads of telecommunications firms to market its new BlackBerry 10 operating system and other devices in what industry analysts say is the company’s last chance of staving off a collapse.
Last Friday, RIM officials met with the top brass of local carriers Smart Communications and Globe Telecom Inc. to pitch BlackBerry 10 ahead of its much awaited launch in the first quarter of 2013.
Heins told reporters that the company has taken note of BlackBerry’s popularity in the region, despite its declining market share in North America and Europe amid the sharp growth in users of Apple and Android devices.
“The big driver for BlackBerry in the Asia-Pacific and countries like South Africa is really our BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service,” he said, referring to the company’s proprietary and secure instant messaging system. “BBM as a service has picked up so dramatically. It’s gone viral. This wave is unstoppable.”
Of the 56 million BlackBerry users around the world, a significant number can be found in the region, with most of them having chosen the platform because of the BBM service, company officials said.
The craze is especially evident in Indonesia—Asean’s largest mobile phone market—where BlackBerry devices outsell iPhones made by US-based Apple.
To take advantage of this strength in the region, the RIM chief said that the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, along with its devices, would leverage off the BBM service with new features.
“Once you have this installed base [for BlackBerry in the region], it’s very [difficult] to compete against,” he said. “With BlackBerry 10, you will see a dramatic evolution in BBM.”
While declining to reveal more features of the upgraded BBM service, Heins hinted that it would be able to send status updates on Facebook, which would be an attractive feature for Southeast Asia’s “hyper-connected” smartphone users.
“BBM as a platform is going to have much more features and capabilities,” he said, when asked about the company’s response to similar services being introduced by rival manufacturers like Apple with its iMessage service.
“The name of the game is to stay ahead of your competitors and innovate,” he said. “And we will innovate on BBM.”
Explaining RIM’s recent troubles, Heins said this was partly due to the company’s decision to put off introducing Long Term Evolution-capable devices while it perfected the BlackBerry 10 system.
“The US leapfrogged from 3G to LTE within a year. There was a huge investment in LTE, and all the investment went into marketing 4G based on LTE. That’s the major difference we face today,” he said.
“There was no LTE product from RIM because we were working on our global expansion,” Heins added. “That was a conscious decision. We are making sure that, with BlackBerry 10, we gain the market share back.”