BlackBerry is valiantly trying to hold on to its position in a mobile-addicted India, but its market share in the world's second biggest wireless services market is waning. In a fierce marketplace with over 860 million mobile subscribers, the Canadian brand is trailing behind aggressive, nimbler rivals such as Samsung and Nokia in sales numbers.
For BlackBerry in India enterprise users are a priority segment, but BlackBerry is no longer the only choice for Indian businesses. Not even its BlackBerry 10 platform or the recent launch of its premium Z10 device is helping convince users otherwise.
Indian businesses have long been devoted users of BlackBerry. But recently enterprise users are being tempted by a range of options (Android, iOS, and Windows-powered devices), thwarting BlackBerry's global revival plans. Additionally, Indian corporations' move towards the BYOD phenomenon is costing BlackBerry.
According to Abhishek Chauhan of the consultancy Frost & Sullivan, India's high-growth, loyal BlackBerry landscape changed two years ago and current trends do not augur well. By the end of 2012, its share had dropped to 11 percent from 15 percent a year earlier, most of this snapped up by South Korean rival, Samsung. "I expect a further dip this year," he said.
In Bangalore, loyal enterprise users like outsourcing firm Sonata Software and infrastructure firm GMR Group are cutting back.
However, BlackBerry India's newly named managing director Sunil Lalvani, who was until recently its director of enterprise sales, maintained that demand for BlackBerry's enterprise solutions is "extremely strong." The smartphone maker's strategy is to target customers with focused solutions and the robust security architecture that is long-favored by IT managers. BlackBerry does not break down numbers by country, but Lalvani said, "Growth is in the very high double digits."
Meanwhile, competitors are breaking into the enterprise segment. "Samsung is incorporating enterprise-level security features. Nokia is offering devices on annual rentals," Chauhan said.
Along with the parent BlackBerry's precarious financial position, the Indian government's crackdown on the devicemaker has made some customers chary of further investments in BlackBerry's enterprise infrastructure. In a standoff spanning several years, India had threatened to shut down BlackBerry services over security concerns, as its devices could be used to send sensitive data through emails and instant messages. Eventually last year BlackBerry agreed to allow the government real-time access to de-encrypted data.
BlackBerry continues to shore up capabilities to target large enterprises. To adapt to the BYOD needs of enterprises, the smartphone maker is pitching its BlackBerry Balance technology, which allows enterprises to separate and secure their employees' work applications and data from "personal" content on devices.
"While we embrace BYOD, the focus is on our next-generation solutions like security and manageability," Lalvani said. Its centralized managing console allows enterprises to manage employees on varied operating systems like Android, iOS, and Windows 8. "We are the only vendor offering a broad spectrum of capabilities to manage non-BlackBerry devices," he said.
In the non-enterprise segment, BlackBerry finds itself stumbling to cater to the quick-changing demands of a crowded marketplace. K.L. Santhosh, a partner at Bangalore-based retailer Channel 9, said, "Customers view the BlackBerry as a serious phone, not a fun device." Channel 9's top-sellers include Samsung, Nokia, and the Indian brand Micromax.
While competitors' product portfolios straddle every segment from entry-level to premium in ultra price-sensitive India, BlackBerry falls woefully short in terms of breadth of offerings. For instance, the device maker launched entry-level handsets and got young Indians hooked to its free messenger service a couple of years ago. But currently it has just one device for the sub-10,000 rupee (below $200) price point. Its launches are too few and far between to create a buzz, Santhosh said.
Chauhan of Frost said the Indian market is indeed evolving rapidly. The past year was particularly eventful, with device makers offering 3G-enabled, social media-integrated devices at the lower end of the market. Frost forecasts a 40 percent CAGR for the Indian device market in the next 7-8 years.
India is a priority for BlackBerry's overall strategy, according to Lalvani. "Less than 10 percent of India's active mobile subscribers are smartphone users. That gives us a taste of the market potential," Lalvani said.
But, as with other emerging markets, affordability is key to capturing India. Without a range for the mass market, BlackBerry's market share could slide further.
Saritha Rai is an India-based journalist and commentator who covers technology, business and society from her ringside seat in Bangalore.