Emeka Azuka Okoye is a colleague of mine in the mobile sector. He is a mobile developer and Chief Operating Officer/Senior Application Engineer at Vikantti Nigeria Limited. We are largely agreed on many things. For example, we are agreed about the growth of mobile webs and applications and about certain aspects of the BlackBerry craze.
However, Emeka has made a prediction that falls apart in the face of available facts, and this is his prediction – that BlackBerry will become the number one smartphone brand in Nigeria in 2012.
We had an interesting debate on Twitter yesterday, and one of my responses to his position was that terrorists would have to be hired to blow up the operations of both Nokia (reperesenting Symbian OS) and Samsung (representing both Android OS and Bada OS) for that prediction to come true.
First things first, I have nothing against RIM and the BlackBerry OS. I have used and reviewed a number of them – and I found them excellent devices. Myself and other members of the Mobility Nigeria crew fought for the opening of the BlackBerry AppWorld to Nigeria. Mobility Nigeria have a working relationship with RIM’s agency here in Nigeria, and I maintain professional contact with Deon Liebenberg, RIM’s Managing Director for Africa. Deon and I met and interacted at the Mobile Web West Africa conference back in February this year.
Having made that disclaimer clear, facts are facts, and here I present simple facts that show clearly that BlackBerry is nowhere near becoming the number 1 smartphone OS in Nigeria in 2012.
Misconceptions about the BlackBerry Craze
1. The BlackBerry Craze Illusion. You hear people make statements that the youth are crazy about BlackBerry. The problem is that some truth has been presented without placing it in its proper context.
The properly stated truth would go something like this – a significant number of young people, especially those in a few select cities, are crazy about BlackBerry. This puts those affected by the BlackBerry craze in the minority – afluent areas and certain higher institutions.
As a rule, when you step out of those environments, you almost cannot find BlackBerry devices anywhere else. And even in those ennvironments, many more people use other smartphone brands than they do BlackBerry devices.
There are millions of other young people across the majority of the landmass of Nigeria that do not know what a Blackberry is, and in many cases do not care.
Mobility Nigeria is currently conducting a mobile usage survey, and the results coming in do not surprise us. This survey is specifically targeted at students of higher institutions across some of the choice schools in the country. Because the survey has not been concluded, I cannot present figures here, but the BlackBerry Craze is not as widespread as many suppose.
Every month, we track mobile web usage here on Mobility Nigeria, and the records show that Symbian (average of 27%) outguns Blackberry (average of 13%) by a huge margin, and that margin is not closing. At least not yet.
Reports from Opera, InMobi and other service providers corrroborate our statistics for mobility Nigeria – Symbian is way ahead of BlackBerry and the latter is not catching up. At least not yet.
InMobi’s latest mobile ad statistics (March 2011) show that in Nigeria Symbian grew from December 2010 to March 2011 to clinch 16.2%. Following at a distant 0.4% is iOS, not BlackBerry. interpretation: BlackBerry mobile ads recorded less than iOS’ 0.4%.
During our Twitter debate, Emeka presented Symbian as having 25.9% mobile ad share and BlackBerry 2.9%. But he must have mixed things up a bit, because those figures are for Africa, not Nigeria. The Nigeria stats reflect that Blackberry has less than 0.4% mobile ad share on the InMobi network.
2. The Grey Market Factor. My friend Emeka argues that Blackberry devices have become affordable because of the activities of the grey market. But that is true for Symbian, Android and iOS devices as well. Anyone can pick up a fully-functional smartphone running any of the available OSes for less than N20,000.
As such, the grey market factor is not in favour of just BlackBerry but of all others. iOS in particular thrives on the grey market, and is responsible for a significant number of iPhones in use in the country.
3. The Samsung-Android Factor. In my opinion, Android OS stands a much better chance than BlackBerry. The growth of Android is phenomenal, and Samsung have been responsible for a huge chunk of that growth.
While Android is not showing up much on statistics at this time, anyone who has tracked the explosion of that OS knows that its a bad idea to ignore Android. While iOS was still basking in achieving the number 1 spot in the United States, Android was behind it in no time and then in front of it the next moment.
Symbian’s global marketshare and margin ahead of everything else were so huge that everyone was taken by surprise at how fast Android snatched that top spot.
While Android is not showing on any statistics for Nigeria now, past precedence tells me not to underestimate it. In another 6 months, the statistics may be showing Android having an alarmingly significant share.
4. The Cool Factor. BlackBerry smartphones are cool. But so are Samsung’s AMOLED-touting Android phones, Apple’s iPhones, and Nokia’s new range of Symbian phones.
Here on Mobility Nigeria (where we have a sizeable community of phone lovers), on a couple of occassions we have asked readers what phones they would love to purchase if money were not an issue. Surprisingly, Symbian and Android devices were the most desired. In one case, out of the several responses, only one person wanted a BlackBerry.
While that poll does not tell us everything, I think people should stop ascribing the cool factor to BlackBerry in a way that suggests that products from other manufacturers are not found cool. Two of the coolest devices today are the Nokia E7 and the Samsung Galaxy S II. Some people wanted both these devices!
As an side, I have used over 60 mobile phones (including BlackBerries), and none has been as cool as the Nokia E7 that I currently use. Everywhere I go, people gawk, mope at and ogle the Nokia E7. Cool is not exclusive to BlackBerry.
It is a lie to suggest that other devices are not found cool by young people. Sales and usage statistics show that many more Symbian and Android devices are sold globally and locally than BlackBerry devices. Sorry, BB fans, but cool cannot be exclusive to you, seeing that these two other platforms outsell BlackBerry by huge margins.
5. The Data Cost factor. BIS (Blackberry Internet Service) rates have come as low as N2,800 monthly for standard BIS plans, and N1,500 (for Etisalat’s specialised plans), and this has driven BB adoption some more.
Still, those are not the most affordable internet/data plans available in the country. All the networks have N1,000 internet plans that can be used with any standard smartphone. As a matter of fact, both Nokia and Samsung have partnered with various networks to bundle certain internet plans with some of their devices.
I know several individuals who use these generic plans. In my opinion, if monthly internet subscription cost is an issue for anyone, such a one is better off without a BlackBerry smartphone. You can get a Symbian or Android smartphone for less than you will get a BB, and then get lower cost monthly internet access.
Mobility Nigeria consults for several individuals and organisations across the country. I can itemise a number of individuals who have stopped using their BlackBerry smartphones because they needed to tighten their financial belts. They opted instead for a generic smartphone (usually Symbian) with a N1,000 monthly generic internet plan.
Of course, there are others too who have switched from other platforms to BlackBerry because of their peculiar needs.
As I have shown, the monthly internet cost factor can weigh in for or against Blackberry adoption, depending on the specific scenario.
6. The Symbian-Is-Not-Dead-Yet factor. Symbian is not dead yet. As a matter of fact, Symbian has never looked better than it does right now. More devices. More apps being developed (especially in Qt), and more OS updates with superb UI elements. Shame that Nokia is throwing it out the window eventually.
But in the meantime, 150 million new Symbian smartphones will hit the market. A significant number of these 150 million Symbian smartphones will be sold here in Nigeria, a traditional Symbian territory. BlackBerry will have those to contend with too.
The True Position of BlackBerry OS in Nigeria
Yes; there is a cult following among its fans (just like the iPhone cult following). Yes; that following is growing and is expected to grow some more, all things being equal.
Yet, inspite of all the above, BlackBerry use has largely remained a niche affair. RIM can leverage on the growing popularity to push BlackBerry adoption further in the country. More budget devices will help. Lower BIS subscription rates will help even more, as is already evident from the trends since the recent drop in BIS rates by all the GSM operators in the country.
The Nigerian Smartphone Market in 2012?
This is not the place where I will present predictions about the smartphone market in Nigeria in 2012. However, all statistics and indices show that short of the detonation of nuclear warheads on Nokia and Samsung operations, the Blackberry OS does not stand a chance of becoming the number 1 smartphone OS in Nigeria in 2012.
If I were to place a bet on this, I won’t lose any sleep over the outcome.