Here’s the problem with research that shows BlackBerry is still growing

BlackBerry 10

BlackBerry 10

The Mobility 2014 survey, released at the end of November, showed that BlackBerry had overtaken Samsung in South Africa. BlackBerry users had increased from 18% to 23% of the market since 2012, while the number of Samsung users had stayed pretty much constant at 19% (up from 18%). Of course, this has elicited some proper OMG/WTF-type reporting from sites like BGR and ZDNet.

That kind of dramatic market share increase is actually logical and easy to explain. Any research of this type is – by definition – backward looking. The fieldwork for this survey would’ve surely been done closer to the mid year mark than November… The previous survey, Mobility 2012, was published in August last year. That means a gap of more than 15 months (not 12) between surveys.

Compare the market in July 2013 with the market in April 2012 (for argument’s sake), and its obvious why BlackBerry has gained. Remember, that the South African market was being flooded with absurdly cheap BlackBerry phones for most of 2012 as the company and operators were gearing up for BB10. The entry point for BlackBerry devices on post paid was R149 a month. Subtract the all-you –can-eat BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) from that price and operators were practically giving away voice contracts (135 minutes and a subsidized device for less than R100 a month — a price previously unheard of in this market).

All of this added up to the bulk of new contracts and upgrades in the middle market being BlackBerry. In the prepaid space, these devices were being sold for sub-R2000 (and financed by in-store credit). Also in this year’s data are all the 24-month contracts and devices bought cash in 2011.

Peak BlackBerry? Probably.

The Mobility 2014 survey also questioned intent, ie. ‘What device are you going to get next?’ This told us that 29% of respondents wanted a BlackBerry for their next phone (vs the 23% who already had BlackBerrys).

But what if operators simply don’t stock BlackBerry devices anymore?

At the beginning of last month, I wrote:

The market’s moved on. Not only has BlackBerry lost mind share, its lost operator support. Literally as recently as two months ago, BlackBerry dominated the cover – and first handful of pages – of the Vodacom and MTN monthly deal booklets. In Vodacom’s October edition, the first BlackBerry makes its appearance on page 6; ditto with MTN. And while it’s a ‘new’ phone, it’s running the old-generation OS 7 (and BIS).

Expect this trend to continue. Already the Z10 has completely disappeared from view. The new Z30 will no doubt make its début when the December deal booklets are released at the end of this week. But this is a device that competes at the high-end. And there aren’t too many of those consumers around in an emerging market.

This is one of the problems facing BlackBerry. You cannot be a global smartphone maker that is only strong in a handful of regions around the world. It cannot be different in South Africa. Or Nigeria. Or Indonesia.

This graph from Google Trends is telling. Interest in BlackBerry has very obviously been waning for the past year. Sure there’s been an uptick in interest with the launch of BBM apps for iOS and Android, but it’s no coincidence that the peaks of ‘Android’ and ‘BBM’ correlate.

In South Africa, the drop-off in interest in BlackBerry has been far more recent. But there’s no escaping the trend.

There are tons of unanswered questions about what BlackBerry as a company looks like a year from now. Interim CEO John Chen has sent an open letter to enterprise customers. In it he spells out the strategy:

“We’re going back to our heritage and roots – delivering enterprise-grade, end-to-end mobile solutions. As we refocus back to our roots, BlackBerry will target four areas: handsets, EMM [enterprise mobility management] solutions, cross-platform messaging, and embedded systems.”

EMM — yes. Cross-platform messaging — yes. Embedded systems (QNX in cars, for example) — yes. But handsets? Its going to be untenable to be a handset player servicing a few hundred enterprises.

Did he miss the part about the consumerisation of IT and mobility?

Or is there a plan where handsets are completely secondary to what BlackBerry becomes?

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