A Land Where the BlackBerry Still Thrives

Research in Motion, the Waterloo, Ontario, company that makes BlackBerrys, has been hemorrhaging market share in North America. But a blog reader named Jon Markman, a  lawyer living in Washington, D.C., has discovered a land where the BlackBerry still dominates:

I wanted to send along an interesting thing I noticed on a recent trip to the Dominican Republic to visit my in-laws.

In the past when I’ve been there, I’ve noticed that everyone uses a BlackBerry; my wife and I were the only people I’d ever seen using anything else (other than a “dumb” phone, but those are pretty rare these days everywhere!). I figured it was only a matter of time; trends and technology seem to often lag a little when making it to the island. Given that BlackBerry has fading for years, I thought, soon it would fade there, too.

But this time, I noticed the same thing, despite tons of advertisements for Android phones on billboards around Santo Domingo (the capital). If anything, the number of BlackBerrys seemed to have increased, and I still saw no one with some other kind of smartphone. I mentioned this to my brother-in-law, and he had an interesting reason: in the D.R., unlimited texting is almost non-existent, whereas in the U.S. it has become commonplace. What this means is that BlackBerry’s competitive advantage in the instant-communications department (with their BlackBerry Messenger application) is significantly greater there than here; the odds are that you don’t have unlimited texting and your recipient doesn’t, so sending a text will cost you both money, whereas if you both have BlackBerrys, the BBM is free. It also creates a barrier to entry for a competitor; if everyone else has a BlackBerry, you’re going to get one, too, rather than hope that you can convince them all to download some kind of third-party instant messaging app that works with your phone, too. And, finally, it seems to me, it creates a cyclical effect; with BlackBerry so dominant, there doesn’t seem to be the same demand for unlimited texting, which means the carriers don’t offer them, leading to a reinforcement of the above.

For the record, I have no idea why unlimited texting plans are not common there (other than the cyclical point above); as far as I can tell, the network quality is the same as here (one of the main companies there, Claro, used to be a subsidiary of Verizon), and given the number of malls with expensive American and European brands, I can assure you that there are plenty of people with disposable income!

I tried to think of other examples where this kind of thing happens, but I couldn’t think of a good analogous situation. I thought it was very interesting and wanted to pass it along!

What do you all have to add?

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  1. C W WONG says:

    Perfectly logical. Not just D. R many other countries doesn’t have unlimited messaging. And the fact that iPhone too introduce iMessage in their iOS 5 speaks volume of such feature influence

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  2. Andreas Moser says:

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  3. Mike Phillips says:

    I have noticed the same circumstances with other “islands” of populations. As an educator of high school aged students, I notice how loyal teenagers are to RIM, BlackBerries and the BBM ability. Students form social networks and they can’t afford (or their parents won’t pay for) the unlimited texting packages of some carriers, so they are devoted (addicted) to BBMing and Blackberries. Changing to another smart phone becomes an issue since their social network is already using BBMs for free.

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  4. Botak says:

    Blackberrys also dominate the mobile phone market in Indonesia (amongst middle class Indonesians that I know I would say about 85+% own 1). However, I don’t think that unlimited SMS plans (which don’t exist here either) would alter this as BBM offers more features (like group chat) that are very popular. Were they introduced, I doubt this would have much of an impact on Indonesians’ instant messaging habits.

    The physical keyboard on a BB is also an advantage for people here who find it almost impossible to go for more than about 15 seconds without sending some kind of message, be it BBM, twitter or FB

    Whilst other smartphones are also used, people often have these in addition to the ubiquitous BB. People are frequently surprised that anyone who can afford one would not own a BB, and many Indonesians would not think twice about spending 1-2 months wages on the latest model.

    Also, anyone in business who does not have a BBM ‘pin’ is certainly at a disadvantage in the networking stakes, and the prevelence of BBs is certainly a barrier to entry for competitors. Anyone lacking BBM will be excluded from a significant aspect of their friends communications.

    As an example of the demand for BBs, a recent BB special offer turned nto a near riot with a number of casualties as people rushed to try to get a discounted phone.

    http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/home/several-injured-at-indonesian-blackberry-launch/480816

    the head of BB in indonesia is currently under investigation for this event.

    http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/news/rim-indonesia-chief-named-a-suspect-after-blackberry-event-chaos/482576

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  5. DP says:

    Is there a market for used devices, which would be cheaper than purchasing a newer model? Enhanced functionality on a cheap device is an advantage over the $300-500 Android/iPhone market in the US.

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  7. Jose X. Orellana says:

    The reason is the extensive use of BBM capability to communicate internationally between Dominicans living in the island and their friends and relatives in the United States and Spain. Texting accross borders is more expensive than locally.

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    • Jon M. says:

      This is also definitely a factor; a country like the DR with a large number of ex-pats living abroad needs that kind of solution. But I still think it’s interesting that, with the prevalence of instant messaging clients on Android and iPhone here, whether Google Talk, AIM, Skype, what have you, BlackBerry is still the dominant choice. My wife happens to have both a Blackberry and an iPhone, and I wonder if that’s common for expats living in the US.

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  8. Meir says:

    BB is also huge in South Africa due to high cellular data charges. Currently 500MB of data costs roughly 3 times the it costs for the unlimited BB plan.

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