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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

BlackBerry looks to Middle East to lift flagging sales

UAE and Saudi Arabia accounted for 4-5% of BlackBerry KeyOne sales

Hosts hold Blackberry KEYone mobilephones at the Mobile World Congress (MWC), the world's biggest mobile fair in Barcelona. AFP / Pau Barrena
Hosts hold Blackberry KEYone mobilephones at the Mobile World Congress (MWC), the world's biggest mobile fair in Barcelona. AFP / Pau Barrena

BlackBerry Mobile’s new brand owners TCL Communication are looking to customers in the Middle East to lift handset sales, a senior executive told The National, as the newly re-launched smartphone brand struggles to generate traction internationally.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia together accounted for 4-5 per cent of sales of the BlackBerry KeyOne, the first handset launched following the acquisition of the rights to the handset brand by Chinese manufacturer TCL Communication in 2016, according to Francois Mahieu, global head of sales for BlackBerry Mobile.

“There’s a lot of good legacy for the BlackBerry concept in the Middle East,” Mr Mahieu told The National on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “We found that the foundations are absolutely still in place and this is showing in the numbers.”

TCL, which also manufacturers handsets under the Alcatel brand, plans to deepen its presence in both countries and expand distribution partnerships across the wider Middle East region, particularly within Kuwait, Bahrain and Lebanon, in a bid to tap lingering affection for the brand across the region.

The BlackBerry brand has yet to regain significant traction globally since the launch of the KeyOne at Barcelona last year, which was followed in October by the unveiling of the BlackBerry Motion. Just 850,000 BlackBerry smartphones – across the brand’s entire product portfolio - were sold in 2017, according to Francisco Jeronimo, research director for European mobile devices at industry analysts IDC, giving BlackBerry devices a global market share of less than 0.1 per cent.

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TCL declined to comment on IDC’s figures.

The UAE is one of the top 10 markets globally for the BlackBerry brand, Mr Mahieu said, with the KeyOne accounting for 2-3 per cent of sales in what he described as the country’s “premium” smartphone market in 2017.

TCL is looking to increase this market share to over 5 per cent within 12 months, he said.

The importance of the Middle East for BlackBerry was underlined last year when TCL staged the global unveiling of the BlackBerry Motion at the Gitex Technology Week exhibition in Dubai last October.

“We count the Middle East as one of the best regions not in terms of how many units we sell but also how much the BlackBerry brand resonates with customers,” said Mr Mahieu.

TCL said last month it plans to launch at least two new smartphones in 2018, with both devices sporting physical keyboards.

Mr Mahieu gave no further details of when the devices were likely to be launched, and whether Gitex would again be a launch forum.