BlackBerry seeks past prowess, woos China

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 February, 2013, 5:02am

BlackBerry, once lauded as a boardroom status symbol, is banking on its new operating system and two new smartphones to woo back users who have switched to trendier competitors.

The Canadian company is lining up a marketing campaign in Hong Kong to launch its new products in the second quarter of this year as it sets its sights on the Chinese market.

Analysts estimate that BlackBerry, which changed its name from Research in Motion last month, had less than 1 per cent of the market in China as of the end of last year, though the company would not say how many subscribers it had in Hong Kong and on the mainland - or how much the new handsets would cost.

"Arguably, BlackBerry created the smartphone market," said Rory O'Neill, vice-president of product and channel marketing, who was in the city last week.

"We want to reinvigorate the markets, and China and Hong Kong are really important markets for us. China, as a whole, is the second-largest smartphone market in the world, and we want to be part of that."

BlackBerry first launched in 1999 and was the phone of choice for many senior executives during the 2000s, but since the 2007 entry of Apple's iPhone and later Google Android handsets, sales have plunged.

Its new Blackberry 10 platform, O'Neill said, had features not available elsewhere, such as "balance", which separates work and personal profiles on the phone including calendars, address books and applications.

Another feature, called the "hub", shows all messages - e-mail, social media and text messages - in one stream.

"We only do mobile, we don't have PCs; that's what will differentiate BlackBerry in a very crowded competitive space."

Globally, Blackberry has 79 million users but sales have fallen in key traditional markets such as the United States, where what was once a roughly 50 per cent market share has dived to about 5 per cent.

Apart from the rise of competing brands, the company has run into several major service disruptions in recent years affecting millions of users.

C. K. Lu, a senior research analyst for Gartner who specialises in consumer markets and technology, said BlackBerry's best bet would be to recapture business users.

"We expect it to be more enterprise-focused because in the consumer market, the competition is already brutal," he said.

Lu said BlackBerry had struggled to gain a foothold on the mainland.