Consumer or enterprise? Differences in smartphone brand perception across Asia-Pacific

This year’s BlackBerry DevCon Asia was a recreation of its North American 2010 counterpart but while the scale of the event was actually physically smaller there was no escaping the broad diversity of its multi-national attendees – and one of the things the conference brought into sharp focus is how differently the BlackBerry device and brand are perceived in some Southeast Asian countries compared against how we view them here in Australia.
In Australia the connotations of the BlackBerry are largely business business business. RIM’s product is widely viewed as a tool for enterprise users due to its legacy of providing strong mobile email support – and the security features of the platform indeed make it a common smartphone choice for those coming from a business or IT perspective.

But while there is a sound reason for the belief that the BlackBerry is a business tool (because it is one) the stereotype persists that it is only a business tool and this is the case despite strong marketing attempts by the company to present the BlackBerry equally as a consumer device.

DevCon Asia 2011: many dev nations one device.

In Australia it seems sometimes as if the iPhone has the consumer market all to itself such is the strength of media hype and fan zealotry which surrounds Apple’s near-ubiquitous product. Of course the sales figures don’t bear that illusion out and the gains made by Android-based handsets in the last year alone show there’s a hugely competitive market fighting for consumers’ (and enterprises’) dollars.

But compare the perception of BlackBerry in Australia with that of the smartphone market in Indonesia the host country of this year’s DevCon: in Indonesia the BlackBerry is the leading smartphone brand and it enjoys the same kind of popular status and media attention as the iPhone does in many other markets.

The BlackBerry Indonesia commercial above – which was played during the keynote session at DevCon – is of course just that a commercial: a piece of slickly edited advertising designed to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. But it’s also indicative of the different social way in which many Indonesians use their BlackBerrys. They’re a nation deeply engaged with the BlackBerry Messenger program. Some may deride BBM as a simple instant messaging feature but RIM calls it “the world’s largest mobile social network”.

As explained by RIM representatives at the event BlackBerry uptake has been fuelled in the Indonesian market by two inter-related factors: the availability of inexpensive prepaid BlackBerry services (which saw handset sales surge) and the relative costliness of landline broadband within the country.  

As Gregory Wade RIM’s Managing Director of Southeast Asia put it to APC: “There’s no better place to be in the world of technology than in Southeast Asia particularly because of all the great high-growth markets the dramatic shifts in terms of technology adoption. In many ways because of the lower rate of broadband penetration consumers in places like Malaysia Thailand Indonesia and the Philippines are leap-frogging technology by jumping into the mobile space because that’s either the first point of access to the internet or it provides them with a rich experience that they weren’t experiencing on a desktop environment or perhaps had to go into an internet cafe to be able to access the content.”

RIM’s Managing Director of Southeast Asia Gregory Wade.

Which of course is not to suggest that usage trends in all Southeast Asian countries are the same. Indeed Indonesia represents a nation where BlackBerry is actually trying to bolster their relatively weak enterprise presence. Another counter-point is found in Malaysia:

“One of the aspects that’s really cool relative to Malaysia in many ways differentiated from other Southeast Asian countries is that we did have a very strong enterprise linkage and the fact that the consumer-to-enterprise ratio is fairly close in Malaysia whereas in Indonesia again the vast majority is consumer. And Malaysia is interesting in that we’ve been able to parlay that enterprise strength and benefit from the association of BlackBerry with great security elements and corporate applications and people are saying ‘That’s the standard. That’s what I want to invest in. I can translate those benefits that I’ve seen in the enterprise over to me as an individual.’ That’s a unique experience that we’ve seen certainly in Southeast Asia.”

Disclaimer: Peter Dockrill travelled to BlackBerry DevCon Asia 2011 as a guest of Research In Motion.