One of BlackBerry’s major mistakes was ignoring Africa

I attended an investors’ meeting earlier in the year. Everyone present at the meeting was either an investor, except one journalist who strolled in towards the end of the meeting, and of course my humble self. But I did not go to the meeting as a journalist; I was there as an investor. While figures and projections were being thrown around during the question and answer session, I looked around and counted five BlackBerry phones.

“I thought these phones were extinct,” I muttered, but the guy sitting next to me  heard and replied “No, they are not. I use one and I have friends who also do.”

I did not say another word. I tried to get back to reality, as though I was in a trance. I even managed to ask a question but I couldn’t stop thinking about finding out who still uses BlackBerry.

As we networked after the meeting, I tried to meet almost everyone holding a phone and get a good look at their phones. I shook hands with 20 people out of the 30 investors at the meeting; 15 of them had a BlackBerry phone, though there was also always an iPhone or an Android phone. That told me something; BlackBerry had not lost its appeal. There must have been something these people saw in their BlackBerry phones that has ensured they remained with them despite the sophistication of their iPhones and Samsung phones. They are (were) not the only ones. Some months ago, it would be very hard to enter a room of 10 without seeing at least four BlackBerry users. This is changing.  People are trading their BlackBerry phones for unbranded Android phones these days. I blame BlackBerry for this!

I have always complained about the company’s lack of interest in bringing back the good old days for BlackBerry. It is true that sales plummeted to record lows as Apple’s iPhones and phones that run on Google’s Android took a huge chunk of BlackBerry’s market share. But the Canadian company didn’t fight back. Apple’s class and uniqueness sold the iPhone, but what sold phones that run on android initially? Price and accessibility. If BlackBerry was serious about fighting, it was supposed to find a way to match that, but it didn’t. Today, my beloved BlackBerry phone is no more. John Chen was never going to really push hardware.

A message from BlackBerry confirmed my sentiment. The company “confirmed that software takes the lead at BlackBerry…” It has now moved handset hardware development to third parties.

“We will discontinue all handset hardware development and fully leverage third parties to develop hardware and distribute and support the BlackBerry handset brand. BlackBerry will focus on our strengths: state-of-the-art software and security solutions.

“… we have signed our first significant brand licensing agreement, which is a new joint venture called BB Merah Putih. BB Merah Putih, which is led by Indonesian telco, PT Tiphone Mobile, to source, distribute and promote handsets with our secure Android software and the BlackBerry brand in Indonesia, our strongest market.”

Several months after BlackBerry released the Classic, many Africans had not heard about it. Marketing of BlackBerry phones in Africa has been poor. The company has never really seen real value on focusing on Africa, a continent of over 1 billion people. Even now, its position has not changed. It emphasized that its latest brand licencing “agreement is focused on the Indonesia market”. Like my Nigerian friends would say; who Indonesia don epp? Mtschew.

Or maybe it’s just me writing gibberish.