Research In Motion is banking on reduced prices for BlackBerrys and an increasing demand for affordable smartphones to increase its market share in Africa.
Smartphones were considered elitist and expensive, but the entry of affordable Chinese smartphones such as Ideos has forced manufacturers to rethink their strategies. Nokia had dominated the market with entry-level handsets, but Huaweii introduced Ideos, which retail at US$100, and proved the market was craving affordable smartphones.
"Africa is a strategic and important part of RIM's future growth and we are committed to investing accordingly," said Waldi Wepener, a RIM spokesperson. "During this growth period, RIM is, of course, required to assess the timing of launches across the continent based on resources available."
The BlackBerry is currently available in over 40 African countries in partnership with over 85 carriers and the company says it is working closely with African carriers and distributors to provide affordable tariffs for its products.
"One of our major selling points is BBM [BlackBerry Messenger], one of the largest social mobile networks in the world with more than 55 million active users worldwide. BBM penetration in key African markets is amongst the highest in the world (98 percent in South Africa); the youth market especially loves BBM, which enables them to share text and voice messages, pictures and video clips," added Wepener.
In Africa, most mobile phone users are on prepaid service and their incomes are not high enough to support Black Berry services. RIM has had to work with operators to provide tiered BlackBerry Internet service options in Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, where the number of Internet users is growing steadily.
"We will continue to provide smartphones with Internet connectivity, strong communications features and a rich application ecosystem into Africa at affordable prices," he said.
One of the biggest challenges RIM faces is the lack of developers on the platform, compared to Nokia, Samsung and Android phones. In South Africa with higher penetration rates, the developer community is working on the platform, but in places like east Africa, RIM is trying to interest developers.
To engage Kenyan developers, RIM recently donated smartphones and tablets to the mLab, a developer co-working space in Nairobi. The donation was aimed at creating accessibility to RIM devices and encourage coding for the BlackBerry.
"The partnership with RIM allows for dialogue with developers coding for the platform and provides a space for public and private sector to explore BlackBerry solutions and provide business opportunities to the developers," said John Kieti, mLab manager.
Developer interest depends on the level of investment and engagement with the community. In South Africa, RIM has a local office, while in east Africa, RIM is in the process of setting up local offices.