Canadian phone maker BlackBerry has multiple battlefronts open. While rumors of a potential sale linger around the company, In India, a market where it has lost market share to rivals, the company is trying to claw its way back up again. The company has also been working on increasing the number of developers on its new BB10 platform. “A quick study of BlackBerry World shows that of the 160,000 apps, 14% are from India while seven of the top 20 downloaded apps in India are locally made,” Prosenjit Sen, Director, Channel Sales, BlackBerry India said in an interview with NextBigWhat. Edited excerpts.

On the whole what trends are you seeing in the Indian smartphone market and how does BlackBerry fit in there?

Prosenjit Sen, Director, Channel Sales, BlackBerry India

There are a few key things that differentiate the Indian market from the rest of the world. Today, India has among the lowest cellular tariffs in the world and is therefore also the fastest growing telecom market globally. The country still lacks healthy internet penetration which creates a huge opportunity for increased smartphone penetration. These factors combined have given rise to several trends that we believe BlackBerry, with its wide range of smartphones across both the BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry OS smartphones, is well positioned to leverage. Some of these are:

Across industries, last mile penetration has been problematic. With the proliferation of smartphones, companies are able to roll out services that users are can access on their mobile phones. Mobile banking is a great example of this but increasingly we’re seeing applications developed uniquely for India such as those that provide farmers with updated information on grain prices etc.

The youth of India, with their propensity to purchase smartphones combined with their prolific use of social media platforms and the use of smartphone cameras makes them the biggest consumers of new and interesting applications.

Also a unique trend in the Indian market is the fact that several subscribers have more than a single device. The motivation is to separate the personal from the professional. BlackBerry Balance on BlackBerry 10 enables BlackBerry smartphones to be used for business and personal purposes without compromise.

BlackBerry with its offerings has a play in all of these segments of the Indian market.

Going by the current market share, BlackBerry is a shadow of what it was before. From more than 10% market share it is now around 3%. How do you plan to regain lost ground?

BlackBerry is picking up cues from the past and gearing up for what we see as a very promising and positive future. The BlackBerry 10 smartphones have helped us garner a lot of positive market sentiment and the most recent launch i.e. BlackBerry Q5 smartphone has been a success. That’s said we also have a robust roadmap for BlackBerry OS 7 smartphones. Another element that we firmly believe will be the cornerstone of the future, is services across both the consumer as well as enterprise spaces. We have compelling propositions in both segments and while consumer services such as BBM and the upcoming cross platform BBM and BBM Channels will drive adoption in that segment, the enterprise space is quite exciting as well. Our offerings for BYOD, Secure Workspace, Remote File Access etc. are great productivity enhancement tools.

An easy way would be to target the bottom end, but you hardly have any phones in that segment except for the older Curve which is perhaps not an attractive proposition in comparison with Android & Windows phones with newer operating systems. How do you propose to go about this?

We have robust roadmaps for BlackBerry 10 as well as BlackBerry 7 devices which will allow us to cater to a wide segment including the mass market for first time smartphone buyers. A great example is the BlackBerry Q5 smartphone that has already created waves in the mid-market segment and you can expect to hear a lot more from us through the remainder of this year.

Could you tell us the rationale behind this bringing key services like Secure Work Space and BBM to other platforms?

BBM has been a key differentiator for BlackBerry in many markets globally and by opening this up to other platforms, we’re creating a world of opportunity for ourselves in terms of being able to create new business models around services. The same applies to enterprise services like Secure Work Space as well.

The Indian government had issues with BlackBerry services and security concerns. It has been reported that this has been settled. Please share details of how it ended and what access is given to the Government.

We are pleased to inform you that BlackBerry has now delivered a solution that enables India’s wireless carriers to address their lawful access requirements for our consumer messaging services, which include BBM and Blackberry Internet Service (BIS) email. The lawful access capability now available to BlackBerry’s carrier partners meets the standard required by the Government of India for all consumer messaging services offered in the Indian marketplace. We also wish to underscore, once again, that this enablement of lawful access does not extend to Blackberry Enterprise Server.

What is BlackBerry’s current situation in the enterprise space?

The BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) has been the cornerstone of secure enterprise communications in the past and continues to be so even now. We have a massive installed base in India where customers continue to swear by its efficacy and security.

Our latest offering BES 10 offers multi-platform device management, thus making BYOD a reality for our existing customers as well as providing potential customers with a value proposition that combines the convenience of bringing personal devices to the work place and manage them with our world-class enterprise security.

BlackBerry 10 received its FIPS 140-2 Security Certification prior to its official unveiling. We’ve worked very closely with CIOs when we worked on the OS and are receiving positive reactions for BB10 from the CIO community as well.

As business needs are dynamic, we at BlackBerry will continue to innovate and offer best in class enterprise services and solutions to our customers globally and here in India.

Since BB10 is priced at a premium, what are the plans for BB7 and what features can we expect to come to the older platform?

BlackBerry OS 7 platform will co-exist along with our latest BlackBerry 10 platform. With our focus on the urban youth, we have to ensure that we are targeting not just seasoned smartphone users but also first time adopters and the mass market. The newer devices on the BlackBerry OS 7 platform will offer all of the older features but with an enhanced user experience that is much like the BlackBerry 10 platform.

Could you tell us some of the BlackBerry initiatives to draw customers and keep them engaged?

Our focus in terms of attracting and engaging customers has been on educating audiences about device USPs.

Industry estimates reveal that the age group of 15-24 are the highest number of social media users in India. This is made more interesting by the fact that 60% of social networking traffic comes from non-metro cities in India. Given BlackBerry’s focus on the youth at large, we’ve put a lot of time and effort in building our social media presence.

BlackBerry has been losing developers to iOS & Android in India over a period of time. How do you plan to stop this?

The fact is that our developer base has grown exponentially. We had 4,000 odd developers a couple of years ago which stands at over 49,000 today developing across BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry OS 7 platforms. Our Rubus Labs at the Start-up village in Kochi is a testament to that, as is the fact that some of the most interesting innovations in app development are coming from developers developing on the BlackBerry 10 platform.

A quick study of BlackBerry World shows that of the 160,000 apps, 14% are from India while seven of the top 20 downloaded apps in India are locally made. This is quite significant for BlackBerry from a global as well as local market perspective.


» If you are an app developer, come over for bigMobilityConf (scheduled for Aug 31st). Lot more insights on app ecosystem will be shared by Industry bigwigs.