Added On: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Indonesian Smartphones Battle: BlackBerry Beats iPhone


Ever since 1992, when IBM released the first smartphone, the Simon, technology firms including Apple and Research In Motion have been engaged in a do-or-die struggle to create the most complete, technologically advanced handset.

Although there is no consensus on the precise meaning of the term smartphone, it is usually refers to mobile phones that offer PC-like capabilities, such as Internet connectivity, e-book reader functions and large data storage capacity.

Apple’s iPhone, with its advanced portable multimedia player functionality, is seen as fun and among the most advanced phones in the market. To date, there are more than 21 million iPhone users worldwide, according to Apple figures released at the end of the second quarter.

In comparison, RIM says that it had 28.5 million BlackBerry users signed up at the end of June.

Growing from a smaller user base than the iPhone, BlackBerry, with its trademark Messenger system that allows users to chat and interact, has profited from skyrocketing mobile Web usage over the past two years, according to InMobi, a global mobile ad network based in Palo Alto, Calfornia, which measures mobile web usage by ad requests.

Because both the iPhone and BlackBerry are web-enabled devices, InMobi’s surveys provide an insight into consumer preferences.

In Indonesia, even though BlackBerrys are primarily considered business devices, their Messenger system has played a part in attracting customers.

The country is experiencing rapid expansion in mobile web usage and currently has a total of nine million mobile web users, 53 percent of whom are between the ages of 18 and 27.

InMobi predicts that the number of users will grow by up to 30 percent yearly and that all will have Internet access via their handsets by 2015.

BlackBerry has been winning the battle against the iPhone here since the start of the year, maybe due to the propensity of Indonesians to chat. InMobi found that in the first nine months, BlackBerry’s local mobile web usage had grown by 4,704 percent, compared with iPhone’s 631 percent.

But according to Abhay Singhal, InMobi’s head of sales, the popularity of the iPhone in Indonesia is set to take off over the coming years.

“Given that Indonesians are now accustomed to using smartphones, an iPhone boom is just a matter of time and pricing,” Abhay said.

But until then, it appears that BlackBerry will continue to rule. There are roughly about 470,000 to 500,000 BlackBerry users in Indonesia, according to figures from the country’s cellular providers.

Meanwhile, PT Telekomunikasi Selular (Telkomsel), iPhone’s sole local service provider, says that the device has between 80,000 and 95,000 users.

Teguh Prasetya, cellular provider PT Indosat’s head of brand marketing, said that BlackBerry benefited from greater market coverage.

“With its wide range of products, BlackBerry covers more segments of the market compared with the iPhone, which has only released three models,” he said.

“The iPhone started with entertainment as the concept, not communication. It’s basically an iPod that can also be used as a phone. BlackBerry, on the other hand, is more suitable for the Indonesian market, due to it being better than the iPhone for social networking. This shows that Indonesians prefer communication to entertainment.”

Suryo Hadianto, Telkomsel’s corporate communications manager, said each brand had its own strengths.

“I always refer to BlackBerry as the community gadget, and iPhone as the multimedia gadget, meaning that each brand is the leader in its own category. Some people I know even carry both phones so they can complement one another,” he says.

Such is the case with Sutra, a 32-year-old mother of three.

“I have both an iPhone 3G and a BlackBerry Javelin, and I bought each phone for different reasons,” she said.

With smuggled mobile phones flooding the market, “Eric”, who owns a cellular store in the Roxy Mas International Trade Center in West Jakarta, said that iPhone sales had been mediocre, regardless of whether the phones are legal or smuggled.

“For every iPhone I sell, I can sell up to 11 or 12 BlackBerrys, including both legal and illegal products,” he said.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about how iPhone is just too advanced and difficult to get to grips with. People say it’s also too expensive compared to the more compact BlackBerrys.”

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