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Goldstuck on Gadgets

BlackBerry rolls the dice again

BlackBerry has joined the trend of producing high-end phones for emerging markets but, asks ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, will the gamble pay off?

The new BlackBerry Z3 is a remarkable phone not because of its features or even its price, but because of what it says about a company listening to its most loyal customers. Released in South Africa last week, it is the first device from the smartphone pioneer that was not only built for emerging markets, but also priced for these markets.

On top of that, it’s the first phone from a global brand to target a specific Third World country, based on its citizens’ loyalty to the brand. No, not South Africa. The Z3 was built for Indonesia, hence its nickname, Jakarta. On launch day in the city of the same name in May, customers lined up in stores and all available Z3 handsets were sold out.

Similar lines are not expected in Johannesburg when the device is released here next week. That partly explains why South Africa had to wait in line for the device. The gradually declining user base here is sending a clear “We’re-just-not-that-into-you” message to BlackBerry HQ in Waterloo, Canada. However, those who remain loyal – and there are still more than 4-million BlackBerry users in South Africa – will have a great incentive to upgrade.

The features do matter: a 5″ touch display is rarely heard of in a phone costing less than R3 000. Access to a range of Android app stores was previously confined to, well, Android phones. The Z3 runs on BlackBerry 10 OS version 10.2.1, which well and truly lets the Android genie out of the BlackBerry bottle.

Yudi Moodley, Managing Director of BlackBerry for Africa, was upbeat at last weeks announcement of the Z3’s pending release here, saying it “extends the BlackBerry 10 platform experience to a new generation of South African customers at an attractive price point”.

Some will see the phone as BlackBerry’s last roll of the dice, a calculated gamble to target customers outside the brand’s early strongholds in North America and Western Europe. Having all but given up on the high-end users who’ve migrated to Apple and Samsung devices, BlackBerry is relying heavily on the fact – a constant surprise to Americans – that it is still an aspirational brand in emerging markets.

To press home its advantage in Indonesia, it’s also believed to have received a local manufacturing incentive there. The result is a sub-$200 phone for that market. Enthusiasm for the device is expected in India, too, where the price is around $250.

So, while the R2999 price in South Africa will amaze those who are used to a lot less for the same money, it’s the equivalent of almost $300. The early 2013 BlackBerry flagship, the Z10 has fallen in cost to about R2500 and, at that price, is a better buy than the Z3. However, the phone is almost sold out, and is no longer coming off the production line. Nevertheless, consumers will be puzzled that the new low-end phone costs more than the old high-end phone at launch time. Fortunately for BlackBerry, that confusion will dissipate fast, along with then last remaining stock of the Z10.

Of course, BlackBerry is also betting on features, price and loyalty resulting in the same jackpot it just won in Jakarta.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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