YEAREND SPECIAL: Gadget of the year: The BlackBerry

Safaa Abdoun
5 Min Read

Whether it’s the Bold, Curve or Storm, there is one gadget Egyptians have been endlessly buzzing about all year: the BlackBerry, or the ‘BB’ as it is endearingly called.

The BlackBerry is a line of wireless mobile device developed by the Canadian company Research In Motion (RIM). Vodafone Egypt was the first operator to launch the BlackBerry in Egypt back in 2004, according to RIM’s website.

The mobile device started out as a business phone, used for email communication and mainly covering business needs. Operators positioned it in the market as an email phone and at first only targeted business people.

The device was developed to include more features such as a camera, and then multimedia, games and the popular BlackBerry Messenger or BBM, a chatting/instant messaging application that sends and receives text, pictures, voice notes and videos, between BlackBerry users. It does not confine them to a certain network and allows communication between BlackBerry users in different networks all over the world.

“BBM created a buzz worldwide not only in Egypt, said Abou Moustafa, business solutions senior manager at Vodafone Egypt. The BBM feature has allowed for more penetration of the BlackBerry among young people, creating a community feel as one of the features of the network.

“What is your BB pin? is now as common a question as “how are you doing?

BlackBerry sales boomed among regular consumers with the introduction of the new range – Bold, Curve and Storm – in May 2009.

“Before in one household, it was only the father who had a BlackBerry, using it as a business solution. Now mothers use it as a multimedia device and children have it to use the BBM to communicate with friends. It [has] penetrated to all the Egyptian market, explained Moustafa.

“The number of BlackBerry sales used to be in the tens; nowadays we talk in thousands so the jump in five years is exponential, he added.

RIM recently boasted that it beat analysts’ expectations in the third quarter of fiscal year 2009. Earnings were up 59 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago. For the period that ended November 30, the company reported earnings of $628.4 million compared to $396.3 million for the third quarter of last year.

Coinciding with its rising popularity, mobile service operators developed a new marketing strategy for the BlackBerry, including new advertising and flexible payment plans as it shifted from a premium service to one that is available to all.

“Now any customer can have a BlackBerry handset, as it is offered at a range of prices, from LE 1,999 up to more than LE 4,000, said Moustafa.

“In line with its ongoing efforts to provide the best and most competitive market offers for both personal and corporate customers, Mobinil is availing the BlackBerry service to all Mobinil customers starting from November 2009, Mobinil said in a statement.

The third mobile service operator in Egypt, Etisalat’s sarcastic advertisement campaign sees a group of young people exchanging BB pins and complaining about what a hassle it is to call the one person in the group who they can’t BBM since they don’t have a BlackBerry.

Mobile operators began researching consumers’ needs. “We work on two factors, the technological and the pricing for the BlackBerry, said Moustafa. He explained that since young people are the target, the device must have a camera and multimedia options.

“Another factor is the pricing, a businessman would pay to have access to their email, but a college student will need a simpler device and would want to enjoy the features at an affordable price, he noted.

“Now BlackBerry service is available with no monthly commitment and users can pay for the service as they use it on a daily basis, added Moustafa.

And this started a price war between the three mobile operators. “Current Prepaid, Primo, Business Prepaid, Call and Control, and prospective Mobinil customers may now subscribe to the BlackBerry prepaid service, which enables them to control their budget by using Mobinil’s variably priced recharge cards, said Mobinil in a statement.

In the coming period, the focus of BlackBerry marketing will be the younger age group and the BBM. “If we compare the BlackBerry with the iPhone, both have almost the same features but what gives the BlackBerry a strong edge is the messenger, said Moustafa.

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