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Why are Zimbabweans holding their breath for BlackBerry?

I remember when I first heard about BlackBerry back around 2005. It was through the prestigious “sent from my BlackBerry” signature at the bottom of an email response I got from a contact in the UK. It was a short response to my rather long email; something to just let me know he had seen the email and would attend to it once he got to his office. I immediately fell in love with it and spent the better part of the following few days researching on the technology.

I was to learn shortly that in addition to it being a device, BlackBerry was a whole experience. A full communications service. But without a means to access the any of it, BlackBerry became a much coveted but out of reach cool technology I and every techie I knew wished for.

That was before the iPhone happened in 2007. And shortly afterwards, Android in 2008. Almost every tech friend I knew gradually stopped wishing they had a BlackBerry, and planted their flag in a new camp. Indeed it wasn’t long before we saw jail-broken iPhones in Zimbabwe.

Our new found interest in these more consumer oriented smartphones didn’t of course mean BlackBerry was any less important. It was still the prestigious mobile gadget of choice we recommended to executives. Next door in South Africa the BlackBerry brand was on the rise though, surprisingly, it was more the young people than business executives being associated with BlackBerry.

Friends and family who left Zimbabwe for greener pastures in South Africa preached and outright boasted (remember Blackberry literally out of reach here) about the service’s benefits. For as little as R60 (our US $7 here) they were getting unlimited internet on their BlackBerry devices. The subscription also came with a free messaging service called BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) which allows subscribers to send each other messages.  And what’s more, they got the BlackBerries subsidised by the mobile operators on contract. They loved it. Who wouldn’t?

Needless to say, friends and relatives here fell in love with BlackBerry too. And soon enough, they started demanding the service from the local mobile operators. “You Econet and Telecel guys are so backward”, they complained, “Why can’t we have Blackberry here too?”

Meanwhile, Blackberry continued to lose appeal globally. By the end of 2010 Research in Motion, the company behind BlackBerry was shipping less smartphone units than Apple. In Africa, Chinese company Huawei introduced its low cost Android device, the Huawei Ideos U8150 in Kenya, effectively enabling middle and low income users access to smartphones. Techies here were now looking forward to owning their first iPhone or Android device. Nokia and Samsung too also introduced low cost feature phones priced way under the BlackBerry devices.

Then one of BlackBerry’s biggest problems emerged; a messaging tool called WhatsApp which, once only available on high end smartphones, became available on low cost Nokia devices, effectively doing away with the BBM edge Blackberry enjoyed.  There’s KakaoTalk too now vying or that same space.

And as if this situation is not bad enough or BlackBerry, there’s has always been talk that mobile operators don’t make much from BlackBerry services, but that it just helps keep the churn rate low so they have to have it.

In terms of performance, Research in Motion reported a $125m loss, in their fiscal fourth quarter results announced in March this year. A few weeks before that announcement, reports confirmed that RIM had lost market share to Apple in its home market.

Now, despite this gloomy state of things and BlackBerry now seemingly living on borrowed time, we have a market waiting eagerly for the telecoms regulator to let mobile operators launch the service in Zimbabwe.

What will be the significance of POTRAZ giving the green light? Does it even matter anymore? Will the executives consider replacing the prestigious apple devices in their hands with a device that certainly doesn’t carry as much prestige today as it did 10 years ago? Will the trend-chasing young users flock to the brand?

Are the mobile operators even keen to have BlackBerry services, or is it that as long as their competition is also locked out from implementing, they are happy with the status quo? Will operators that are not used to subsidising handsets on contract find it feasible to subsidize the devices so their young subscribers can access them?

22 thoughts on “Why are Zimbabweans holding their breath for BlackBerry?

  1. RIM failed to innovate and they are now playing catch up like so many other ” has-been giant” brands. I, like you, used to long for a blackberry but not anymore. There are now better phones, ecosystems and experiences out there. Maybe BB10 will be good but getting back their lost market share is gonna be a toll order if not outright impossible.

    1. On a recent conference they tried to unveil BB10 to a group of developers (before the midyear launch to the public) and they were not at all impressed. fine, they are introducing the touch feel to the phone but predictions say the iphone will top the market for the next couple of years, given the rate at which they are selling their devices at the moment. so chances are BB10 will be better yes, but may not make as much an impact as expected by RIM.

      1. Apple is very creative, innovative, and focused. Besides the iPhone, look at their products, they are the first in many technologies. BBM on the other hand is very secure and its major strength is on privacy, which is why POTRAZ is against it.We say we want to move towards technology, but we are actually moving towards stone age. Something has to be done

  2. l for one never liked Rasberry, been a Nokia fan for years bt our relationship ended when they joined Micro$haft! What a mess, now shareholders are even suing Nokia for not making them enough money.

    Even if BB loses to be the tech choice of masses, POTRAZ must continue banning them until they comply. What is bothering every country about BB is the encryption they use which is not available to local authorities for national security.

    What is even more worrying is the fact that RIM has given selected security services of its choice access to the servers and encryption keys. 

    1. the problem with nokia is the same as RIM. failing to innovate as Wellington above said. Nokia was a pioneer in design and innovation but delayed to bring out smartphones, now their market has been taken. 

  3. @macdchip:disqus , the security card in Zim is just a pathetic excuse by the Zim gvt. What security. What are they security. do we have anything really worth monitoring over 1mil BBM msgs a day? Come one guys. Lets not drown in silly politics and deny people good services.
    I am not a fan of Blackberry, i galloped from Nokia to Android via Microsoft. But I admit the benefits to consumers that the blackberry brings far outweigh any Smartphone you can think of in Africa. for a paltry R60 my wife has unlimited access to email, facebook, youtube, twitter…and the whole internet. To have the same facilities on my HTC Desire HD or an iPhone, I will fork our around R500 (assuming I use 5GB a month). Now, which phone can beat that? And to think you can still have the BBM and also install Whatsapp, Gtalk, viber, skype etc and still not pay an extra cent on data…surely we have to gives thumbs up to blackberry.

    Their only problem and the reason i think they are now struggling is they lagged behind in terms of touch screens, just like Nokia who only woke up when perpetual under performers like Sony started making money with android touch screens. And this marriage with Microsoft, what a shame. i see them going bankrupt soon if they dont change their attitude, just like KODAK!!!

  4. LSM, the traveling populace that’s eyeing Zimbabwe will definitely benefit as they will not be forced to swap handsets every time they crossed the border. For multinationals with interests in Zim who adopted BB early days this might just be what they need to fully become a village in their environs. Nothing is to catchup in my view as the market hasn’t really taken to productivity usage of these devices, mostly been relegated to fashion accessories or status symbols. If RIM is ok experiencing losses yet willing to keep a product on the market then who are we to deny them an opportunity to be resilient ? BTW, I am an Apple pundit, but still hold on to my dear 9700 as she has been loyal

  5. The tech world is crazy, Android was nothing until it was bought by Google. Instagram (… need i say more). As for blackberry, the tech behind it is impressive, no doubt. I dont see BlackBerry dying, they could get bought.
    Also, POTRAZ allowing BlackBerry would set precedence for any future technologies similar to BB

  6. BTW…… Who said BlackBerry is getting sold? check this out if you even saw the BlackBerry World 2012 conference maybe… maybe. As for POTRAZ i blame ignorance, they don’t respond they don’t act. imagine BIS was banned in India but two months it was back, the government got access to the “encrypted” data they so like to see. this is just an FYI at the end of the day one might support the one buttoned “multitasker” iPhone or the hackable Android not forgetting the Windows virus stunt. For some of us this isn’t a phone as you say…. its a handheld device and this is for business people… that is why there was intoduced the BlackBerry Fusion to help also secure the “phones” around.

    if you’re a multi tasker and appreciate technology keep pressing the BlackBerry menu and you will see… not knowing maaybe at least Windows Mobile does such…..

    keep the conversation flowing… maybe i might learn and drop such a sophisticated Handheld used by all Civil Servants in North America and the UK not forgetting India

    1. bb is ‘sophisticated’ no doubt, but, the most popular apps are games (angry b***s, draw something). The povho (you excluded) doesnt really care about the sophistication, thats why they use the ‘simple’ android/iphones which have tons more apps available.

      Oh, by the way have you ever used any android device? On android you press the home button to see all running apps.

  7. POTRAZ have lost their vision about promoting telecommunication in Zimbabwe. They instead kill it. The main reason being that you have employees who have been their for so many donkey years who are not even focused on their jobs but personal deals. The organisation needs a shakeup by bringing  a number of employees from the telecoms field with new ideas and who appreciate technology. The mentality of the current team is to block instead of facilitating.

  8. Developer, the problem we ar having is that everything in Zimbabwe is viewed tnru political lines.

    Here is a list of countries which blocked BB until it complied for national security reasons;
    Saudi Arabia

    And here is a list of countries which have compulsory access to BB for national security reasons;

    Any internet can be monitored, blocked, delayed thru deep packet inspection (dpi) technology, which is why BB becomes a pain becoz all the email traffic is encrypted straight from the mobile handset to its final destination.

    British MI6 have a worldwide email monitoring base at Canary Wharf, London. And an other security services have got one!

    Zimbabwe have all the technology to do it in place just like any other countries experiencing massive internet growth, ask anybody in the telecoms industry they will tell yu.

  9. I agree with Cde, there’s a general culture that discourages innovation and wants to stick to “the way we’ve always done things around here” – I would shake up the leadership at POTRAZ and replace them with fresh thinkers with smart ideas.
    Perhaps I need to see the Blackberry in use before I am convinced because I’m an Android fan. BBM is not multi-platform and I just love touch-screens.

  10. Edmund and Cde, l agree, there is a need of refocus on the part of POTRAZ, l think sometimes there work chairs are mostly occupied by there jackets every working day whilst they are out chasing personal businesses! 

    1. Potraz is just a political guard dog to ensure young guys don’t surprise the big daras with technology & kick them out of power. Period.

  11. The BB situation mirrors that of the MMS. Econet applied for Potraz approval to launch MMS years ago, but only got the nod last year for launch. This was after Econet had almost given up, after lengthy trips between Potraz and ‘The Ministry’, which, of course, was reluctant to allow people to send and recieve pix, vids etc. By the time it came, nobody wanted it. I know for a fact Econet itself is no longer as enthusiastic about BB as it was two years ago.

  12. Work for Vodafone Aust. BlackBerry is a dying horse. The networks should just forget about the BlackBerry service and concentrate on building greater network depth. The way of the future is open source apps and closed platforms like Blackberry just don’t matter anymore and it would foolish for networks to try and pursue this route.

  13. Agree that with the successive innovation in the Mobile, like iphone, Android their share from market has reduced. RIM not update them-self with time and that is the reason their value decrease and company go in deficit. They not come out with the same App and User friendly OS is the main reason not liked by much user. The whole scenario tell their worth went down and BBM message amount day by day.

  14. With the horrible pricing of internet services I think the BIS concept comes in handy , Blackberry used to be for the rich until they diversified when they made the curve. I think Iphone would suffer the same if they would make a low cost iphone. Problems @ RIM dnt neccessarily mean the blackberry gadgets are bad as some of the comments are begginning to suggest. Zimbabwe needs to have the BIS fro those who like the berries black

  15. Ndomarara chaiwo iwaya, in the article you clearly mention that telecom companies don’t make much. Ndopanenyaya yese ipapo being greedy and nothing else

  16. BlackBerry is like 1 o Dexter’s failed lab experiments that turned into a being with e evil plan o choking e world with its heavy presence and monotonous design n features

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