x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

BlackBerry pie 140% bigger

Gitex 2011: The Middle East bucks a global trend of sliding BlackBerry sales with a 140 per cent increase in subscribers.Watch video

Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the chairman of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, right, talks to Jim Balsillie, a co-founder of RIM at Gitex 2011. Ravindranath K / The National
Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the chairman of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, right, talks to Jim Balsillie, a co-founder of RIM at Gitex 2011. Ravindranath K / The National

BlackBerry has reported a 140 per cent increase in subscribers in the Middle East.

The news comes despite a significant decline in its market share elsewhere in the world.

Research in Motion (RIM), which makes BlackBerry handsets, reports "explosive growth" in the region, bucking the trend globally amid tougher competition from rivals.

"The Middle East is an enormously important and fast-growing region," said Jim Balsillie, the co-chief executive of RIM.

The company said its subscriber base grew by 140 per cent in the year to August.

"We expect to double the size of our business this year," Mr Balsillie said at the Telecoms Symposium at Gitex Technology Week in Dubai.

Despite the rosy outlook for the Middle East, RIM faces a tough time.

According to the research firm Gartner, BlackBerry's share of the global smartphone market dropped to 12 per cent in the second quarter of this year, compared with 19 per cent the previous year.

Worldwide, sales of BlackBerry handsets have been hit by greater competition from rival models such as the Apple iPhone and those running on Google's Android platform. Commentators said BlackBerry also faced tougher competition in the Middle East.

"The BlackBerry brand continues to be very strong in the Middle East and that is reflected in the reported growth in its handset subscriber numbers here," said Matthew Reed, a senior analyst for the Middle East and Africa at Informa Telecoms & Media.

"But in this region, as elsewhere, there is rising competition to RIM and its BlackBerry devices from other smartphones and tablet PCs - not just from Apple with the iPhone and iPad but also devices from manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC that use the Android platform."

The BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service, which allows users to send free messages, has been touted as one reason behind the growth in handset sales. BBM is especially popular in the Middle East: according to RIM, 99 per cent of BlackBerry subscribers use the service in Saudi Arabia, and 97 per cent in the UAE.

Yet even the BBM service is losing its edge, said Mr Reed. "[It] no longer represents the unique selling point that it once did as there are now a number of other rival messaging systems available," he said.

Greater competition has weighed heavily on RIM's share price.

According to research by Bloomberg News, RIM executives have not reported buying shares on the open market since July last year, the longest period in six years. The company's share price has fallen 60 per cent this year.

In Dubai yesterday, RIM launched new technology called BlackBerry Tag as part of its bid to take on its rivals.

The system allows smartphone users to share information such as contacts, documents and multimedia simply by tapping their phones together.

"All you have to do is touch your BlackBerry and you can exchange contacts, you can exchange pictures, you can exchange any number of elements," said Mr Balsillie.

RIM is also in talks with Etisalat and MasterCard in the UAE over near-field communications technology, which could be used to offer "secure mobile payments", Mr Balsillie said.

It means consumers could use their BlackBerrys to pay for low-value goods in outlets such as cafes and convenience stores.

Matthew Willsher, the chief marketing officer at Etisalat, confirmed the technology had been trialled and said that overall RIM was strengthening its grip in the region.

"Growth is really very good in most parts of the market for Blackberry," he said.

"The UAE is the most highly developed market in the world for RIM and BlackBerry per head of population."

bflanagan@thenational.ae