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2.08.2013

First NOKIA, Now Blackberry, Will HTC Follow?

The Nikkei reported today that Blackberry will stop selling handsets in Japan. 

The report has quickly gone viral as Reuters and Yahoo.com and everyone else has picket it up. 

According to the Nikkei, Blackberry's market share plummeted from a peak of 5% to 0.3% and it can no longer justify the cost of customizing the operating system for Japan. 

All Things D carried a comment from Blackberry's spokesperson, Amy McDowell saying "Japan is not a major market for BlackBerry, and we have no plans to launch BlackBerry 10 devices there at this time.” She added, “however, we will continue to support BlackBerry customers in Japan.”

Sounds just like how Motorola is operating right now. Motorola continues to sell models here, but stopped providing support for Japanese market specific models in 2009. 

When NOKIA stopped selling in Japan in 2008, I recall it was bigger news in China than it was here, sort of. By then, they had less than 1% market share, and Apple was stealing the show.

I personally liked having a NOKIA phone because (a) I was familiar with its user interface from using NOKIA phones in Singapore, and (b) no one else had them. (b) was good for me, but obviously not for NOKIA.

In December (around 27 December 2012 to be exact), rumours were abound that HTC would be exiting the market as there were no Japanese carriers mentioned in its product launch presentation for the HTC One. They had already announced their retreat from the Korean market in July last year, and given than Blackberry had announced in March that they would be pulling out of Korea, industry insiders and watchers saw a "recurring pattern."

One ranking shows that Japan ranks 7th in the world in terms of the number of mobile phone accounts there are and Korea ranks 22nd. However, I recall having discussions with NOKIA insiders when they were still selling here, that Japan actually ranks 3rd in terms of overall value of the mobile phone market because unlike China and India where the $100 or less models sell well, the higher end models do well here. And that was before smartphones became main stream. 

At the time of the comScore survey on market share in June 2012, Blackberry was lumped in with the "Others" category and no longer mentioned by name, according to All Things D. This, in a time where there were 24 million smartphones in consumer's hands. 

Both Japan and Korea are non-GSM countries with very unique commercial practices that stump outsiders. Both Japan and Korea are homes to domestic gadget champions like Samsung and LG for Korea; Sharp, SONY, and PANASONIC for Japan. 

According to Datacider.com,  who provides weekly reports on the best-selling smartphones, the winners during the week of 28 January through 3 February 2013 were:

(rank)  (model)                                        (carrier)       (previous) (change)
順位機種キャリア前回推移
1iPhone 5 16GB(SoftBank)SoftBank1
2iPhone 5 32GB(SoftBank)SoftBank2
3iPhone 5 16GB(au)au3
4Phone 5 32GB(au)au4
5AQUOS PHONE ZETA SH-02Edocomo5
6Galaxy S III α SC-03Edocomo6
7AQUOS PHONE EX SH-04Edocomo-
8P-01Edocomo7
9Xperia AX SO-01Edocomo8
10ELUGA X P-02Edocomo-

Note: 初 means "first time to appear in rating"
iPhone is self-explanatory, but AQUOS is by Sharp, Galaxy is by Samsung, P-01E and ELUGA are by Panasonic, and Xperia is a SONY brand. 

The fact that Samsung is doing well (hanging in at 6th from the previous week) is proof that not all non-Japanese brands are treated equally. 

As a personal fan of Blackberry devices (I even use a photo of me holding a Blackberry BOLD 9900 as my profile photo on LinkedIn at the time of this posting), I think they are lost. 

I follow them on Facebook and Twitter and the communication has been nothing but uninspiring at best and even repulsive at times - like when they posted a model that looked like she belonged in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar as part of some odd message about enjoying the holidays or something. 

There was a little "urban myth" developing among working women in Tokyo that "women who use Blackberries are successful" for a while, but I reckon they have done a good job at killing that if there was more of that kind of communication! (The "urban myth" is like the one about how "women who drive Fair Lady Z sports cars are all stunningly beautiful.")

I have read and heard a lot about how Blackberry just couldn't get their heads around creating a vision to either be an enterprise device or to focus more on individuals. As a result, it was interesting to visually see the shift from Blackberries to iPads and iPhones among the traditional enterprise users like investment bankers and senior postal executives in the last 12 months. The sad and ironic thing is that every single one of my friends in those circles who have had to give up their company Blackberries in exchange for an iPhone or iPad told me how much they miss their Blackberries! - If only Blackberry knew. 

They should have stuck to their strengths. 
Like first and foremost, it is a bloody good phone! My iPhone is a phone in name only. I never use it for voice calls except when using Skype, LINE, Viber, and Comm - because those apps are either not available on Blackberry or seem to not work as well on Blackberry. 

My first thought this morning when I saw the Nikkei report was, "now I will have to decide what phone to get and whether to stick with Docomo or not."

Second of all, I may not be among the majority of the population here in that I travel overseas frequently for work, but when I travel, the Blackberry is much faster at identifying a local network to roam on than my iPhone. When I need to call family to say "I arrived safely. I love you. Good night," I do it on the Blackberry because often, the iPhone is still looking for a network even after my call on the Blackberry is finished. The Blackberry is also better at data roaming. When overseas, I often switch my iPhone off completely because I have trouble sending data out, thus defying half the purpose of data roaming. So far, I have never had that problem with my Blackberry.

Thirdly, the qwerty keyboard is much better for long business correspondence. Most of my friends who need to read and write lots of emails wherever they are say that with Apple, they need the size of the iPad screen to not get frustrated with the keyboard. 

Lastly, I personally loved it when certain states banned Blackberry because of the data security it offered; i.e. not letting the state crack into the data stream. That gave me comfort and a sense of security as a user. 

Industry watchers have written again and again about how NOKIA lost it when innovation was no longer about developing better hardware, but seeing the hardware as an enabler of services delivered through the software. That is why we refer to the devices now as "platforms" and not "phones."

I am very sad to see Blackberry go. But hey, unfortunately, I am just one of the 0.3% of mobile phone users in a market of 95% penetration who thinks so. The majority, it seems, won't really notice. 

Reference: The Nikkei 2013.02.08 Online edition

ブラックベリー、日本撤退 アップルに対抗できず  :日本経済新聞First

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