Indonesia’s love of BlackBerry smartphones uncovered

The BBC has an excellent article looking at the reasons and consequences of BlackBerry’s smartphone dominance in Indonesia. It is a long piece, but well worth reading, so I’ve picked out a few key excerpts below.

On BlackBerry devices, social media and social effects:

The explosion of smartphone users seems to have coincided with a surge in social media enthusiasts.

According to the Internet World Stats website, since 2000 internet usage in Indonesia has grown by 1500 per cent.

Web statisticians Socialbakers estimate Indonesia has 37 million Facebook users, second only to the United States, while traffic counter comScore ranked Indonesia fourth in the world for Twitter reach.

The importance of social networking came to Indonesia’s attention in 2009, when Prita Mulyasari, an Indonesian bank worker, was jailed for defamation after complaining about hospital treatment in an e-mail to friends.

Her supporters launched enormous Facebook and Twitter campaigns, sparking widespread national and international media coverage, and she was later acquitted of all charges.

More recently, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono used an address to the nation to denounce critics he claims are spreading lies and rumours about him using social media.

The president even cited Blackberry as a platform that can “improve life” but added that those who “use online media to assassinate character or abuse anyone are irresponsible, ignoble and cowardly.’

While US President Barack Obama may be known to be a long-time Blackberry addict, President Yudhoyono is surely the first head of state to mention its impact in an address to the nation.

On security issues and Indonesia’s potential jobs for the country:

For years, the Indonesian government has been negotiating with Research In Motion over regulations that require the Canadian company to build a local server.

Purbo believes the government needs to be more pro-active in pushing Research In Motion to invest in Indonesia.

“Why stop at one server? It’s a small piece of equipment and can be put anywhere. Why not ask them to build a factory here?

“Indonesian programmers should be getting involved and sharing some of the profit.”

On the potential for Android to displace BlackBerry as the country’s most popular:

Android smartphones are yet to win over the Indonesian consumer.

Purbo believes this is because they are largely manufactured in Asia, so are unappealing to Indonesians craving American or European goods.

But with millions of Blackberry users putting pressure on mobile networks, Indonesian providers are having a hard time supplying a reliable service.

“I ditched my Blackberry long ago and use the Android system now, ” laughs Purbo.

“It’s cheap and made in China.”

DJ Prabowo is also keeping a close eye the Android system.

“Some of my friends are using Android already. Others might soon have to catch up,” he says with a knowing grin.

The potential of Android in Indonesia is an interesting one as the country mirrors smartphone trends from other Southeast Asian neighbours, like Thailand, albeit Indonesia’s is a step or two more advanced and on a far greater scale – with an estimated 3 million BlackBerry devices in use according to the BBC’s stats, compared to estimated total smartphone sales of 1 million in Thailand during 2010.

BlackBerry dominates Thailand’s smartphone-owning masses, as it does in Indonesia, for very similar reasons (read this post for more) while Android’s potential is equally as strong in both markets.

With its devices open to greater customisation, more applications, a freer web experience and, crucially, available at lower cost – for first time buyers or those on a budget – Android has all the ingredients to challenge BlackBerry in Indonesia. Equally it has a product range which offers more sophisticated devices to those who can afford them, and more advanced, sophisticated and slick devices to more influential, early-mover users (like the two quoted in the article).

Added to that there is much talk of a budget $200 iPhone, and the future is certainly far from clear in the smartphone market in Indonesia. However for the time being, like Thailand, Indonesia is dominated by BlackBerry devices.