The Z3 could benefit from BlackBerry’s African dominance

BlackBerry Z3

BlackBerry might not be the cool kid in developed markets, but it sure as hell is in a number of other places.

Recent figures by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners put the longtime mobile developer at the bottom of total US market share for Q4 2013. What’s worse, it was hardly a dip from the previous year. Actual blackberries (the fruit) may be more popular right now.

The firm still contends against products like Window’s Phone, however, selling almost two-million units that same quarter. Where those units are is interesting: BlackBerry owns nearly a quarter of the mobile market in South Africa and well over a third in northern neighbors like Nigeria. Crazier still, that’s after a 50 percent drop in sales from over a year ago, according to CNBC. It now looks to regain them with the Z3, a new version of the BB10 handset, which fell flat in the US

Internet usage from mobile hovers at 50% in Africa — only five percent lower than that of the U.S., reports CNN Money. With almost identical markets for mobile web, what’s the deal with Africa?

Network Operation Centers

The details of BlackBerry’s mobile profile may shed some light on its unique demographic, particularly in how its data is trafficked. Email, messaging and otherwise web-based information is processed through a single network operations center (NOC), says Sandvine in The Washington Post, and therefore active content is much easier to regulate. In a part of the world without a surplus of bandwidth or money, this system is extremely appealing.

Developing Economy

BlackBerry’s prices cater to Africa’s developing economy in similar fashion, as shown by rates for the newest BlackBerry phones like the Z10, available for under US$70 per month and zero down despite a competitive retail cost. The Z3 will be even less expensive, slated to launch in South Africa for as little as US$150.

‘Young’ Budgets

Targeting the Indonesian market simultaneously, the formerly Research in Motion manufacturer expects pieces like the Z3 to gratify more than just a developing community, and this is likely the root of its niche in the east. As a continent with half the population under the age of 19, college students and other dependents can find flexibility in data plans that include free messaging. Its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) received attention by Mashable for releasing free voice chats via Wi-Fi in 2012.

Emulating Culture

BlackBerry isn’t ignorant to the limitation of their attraction to certain parts of the world, which is why recent activity reflects a conscious move to market almost exclusively to Africa and Southeast Asia. Beyond saving its lesser-priced devices for these regions, the firm has pursued agreements with regional carriers for unlimited plans and special rates depending on current popularity and perceived value. Its image therefore hinges on opportunities to fine-tune a local presence and mirror a culture that identifies with merchandise differently.

Areas with softer standards for common technology aren’t deterred from devices more privileged countries can adopt, if merchandise is properly represented: Nigeria, according to Georgia-based professor Mike Best, sees luxury in BlackBerry handsets, and manages a 40 percent national market share at the same time. In other words, prestige and convenience are not mutually exclusive and high prices can sell as long as it’s “worth it.”

BlackBerry accepts a profit margin that is inherently compatible with Africa, but its market share will continue to rise with a need to find easier ways to stay online. As long as the business follows the state of Africa’s economy, and that of its culture, it’s neither a secret nor a struggle that it becomes a mainstay of the continent’s mobile industry.

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