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“DO YOU know how many times you have embarrassed me because you have refused to buy me a BlackBerry?” Keisha screams in a dusty car park, jabbing her boyfriend’s chest. Daniel says he can’t afford it until next month. It is the final straw for Keisha.This is a scene from “BlackBerry Babes”, a Nigerian film about women wooing men into buying them such a smartphone. The plot may be absurd, but its sense of fashion is spot on. RIM, the maker of the device, may get clobbered elsewhere in the world (its market share in America has dropped to 1.6%), but in Nigeria BlackBerrys are still hot.
The country’s obsession with BlackBerrys is part of a wider trend: although the market share of smartphones is still small, they are becoming more popular all over Africa. They allow those unable to afford computers to browse the internet for a few dollars a month. Thumb-tapping phone users generate 67% of online searches in Nigeria. More than 4m of its citizens own a smartphone, about 4% of mobile subscribers.
If half of these use a BlackBerry, it is because RIM has managed to attract the younger set, says Nicholas Jotischky, an analyst at Informa, a market researcher. Users particularly fancy the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service, which allows them to send texts for nothing. “I have a BlackBerry to talk to friends–and boys. If you have a BlackBerry people see you in a certain light,” says Diana Ogwuegbu, a student in Lagos, who has hundreds of BBM friends. Savvy businesses use BBM to market their products.
BlackBerrys are quite secure, but RIM’s market share is not. Although Nokia, another troubled phonemaker, still boasts high sales figures in Africa, it is Chinese firms such as Huawei, ZTE and Tecno which are more likely to erode RIM’s market share: they offer cheaper handsets and smartphones with two SIM cards (which allows customers to use two different networks–handy in a country where wireless service is unreliable). RIM may also suffer as Nigerian operators start to offer Apple’s iPhone.
So Nigeria, or Africa for that matter, is unlikely to save RIM. For that, other things have to go right, in particular the launch of devices that use the new BlackBerry 10 software in January. Nollywood may soon have to use another storyline: being spurned for still using a BlackBerry.
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