x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Messages bear fruit for BlackBerry

Popularity of Rim's messenger service cited for record one million BlackBerry sales in Emea region.

The free BlackBerry Messenger service has helped sales. Bloomberg News
The free BlackBerry Messenger service has helped sales. Bloomberg News

Free messaging has spurred an increase in BlackBerry sales in the Middle East, despite a big decline in users in other markets.

The smartphone maker Research In Motion (Rim) reported record sales of its BlackBerry device in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea) region, where it sold 1 million handsets in just three weeks.

The reason behind that uplift is the popularity of the BlackBerry Messenger service, which offers free text messaging, said Patrick Spence, Rim's regional managing director for the Emea region.

"On the consumer side a lot of it has been driven by the growth of the BlackBerry Messenger," said Mr Spence.

"That's been what has enabled our growth over the last few weeks, and really over the last year."

He added the numbers were not a "one-time spike".

"Yes, we've seen record performance over the last three weeks. But that's something we've been building up to," said Mr Spence.

Commentators acknowledged that free text messaging could be behind an uplift in BlackBerry sales.

"[BlackBerry Messenger] in the consumer markets has been one of the distinctive and attractive features of the BlackBerry handsets," said Matthew Reed, an analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media. "It's free to use."

Such sales growth in the Middle East has not been matched in the US, where Rim lost more than 1 million users in the three months to May, according to statistics from the market research company comScore.

This was attributed to the rise of the Apple iPhone and smartphones running on Google's Android platform.

Rim's share price has fallen more than 50 per cent this year, and the company's net profit fell 9.6 per cent to US$695 million (Dh2.55 billion) in the first quarter ending on May 28.

BlackBerry faces several challenges in the Middle East region, said Mr Reed.

"Unless it comes up with something new it's going to come under increasing pressure in these markets, just as it has in North America and Europe," he said. "The two obvious rivals to BlackBerry are the iPhone … and the whole range of Android-based smartphones."

Mr Spence said Rim had addressed concerns over the security of the handsets voiced by governments in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and India. The prospect of a ban on some BlackBerry services, which can be used to send encrypted messages, had been raised in those countries.

"We're making sure that we do everything we need to do to continue BlackBerry operating in these countries," he said.

"I think those are issues that are behind us."

bflanagan@thenational.ae