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Could BlackBerry be big with zero U.S. sales?

The launch of a BlackBerry store in Indonesia. Many of the places the company has concentrated its recent efforts have high populations and relatively low penetration of smartphones.
The victories for Waterloo’s once-mighty BlackBerry now seem fewer and farther between. But if the smartphone game is a war, the company does have some defensible beachheads, and real potential to grow its territory.

This week brought the revelation that BlackBerry is still strong on home ice. In Toronto, North America’s third largest city, BlackBerry devices accounted for 23% of mobile sales between December 2013 and May 2014, topping Apple and trailing only Samsung’s 35%. The bad news? Those sales represented 29% of BlackBerry’s total North American haul.

Today, new data says BlackBerry by far the most popular brand in a country with a population of a quarter-billion.

A recent Nielsen On Device Meter (ODM) survey shows that Blackberry remains by far the strongest brand in Indonesia. 48% of respondents said BlackBerry was their “top brand” compared to just 34% for second place Samsung. And the company has a lot of space to grow in the country; as the Jakarta Post noted, a relatively small amount of mobile devices there are smartphones.

A look at BlackBerry’s sales by region that was included in its fiscal 2014 annual report tells the story of a company that is shrinking and rapidly changing the geography of its sales. The company derived $1.8 billion or 26.6% of its total 2014 revenue from North America, down from $2.9-billion the previous year.

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Sales from Europe, the Middle East and Africa were $3.0 billion or 43.9% of its topline, down from $4.5-billion in 2013.

Revenues in Latin America were $907 million or 13.3% of total revenue, down from $2.1-billion in 2013. Asia Pacific revenues were $1.1 billion, or 16.2% total revenue, down $457-million from the $1.6-billion in derived from the region in 2013.

The data begs the question, could BlackBerry be big without a presence in the U.S. cell phone market? While it’s unlikely the company could once again rival its near $20-billion topline of just a few years ago, emerging markets offer something the U.S does not; runway. According to research firm eMarketer, the United States is the world’s second-largest smartphone market, trailing only China.

Many of the places BlackBerry still has cache however, have low smartphone penetration. Google’s “Our Mobile Planet” survey revealed that in 2013 the UAE and South Korea led the way, with more than 73% penetration. Canada and the U.S. tied for 13th, with 56.4%. Near the bottom of the list are many of the countries in which BlackBerry has concentrated its recent efforts. India had just 16.8% penetration. Indonesia 14%. Thailand and Malaysia were both under 35%, while The Philippines ranked at number 29, with just 38.7%.

While BlackBerry does face the problem of lower total cost for devices in emerging markets (its Z3, initially aimed at Indonesia, sells for less than $200), that must be paired against the sheer size of these opportunities. India has a population of more than 1.2-billion. The Philippines will soon cross the 100-million mark. Thailand has more than 66-million people.

It’s seems unlikely that BlackBerry could regain its former heavyweight status without becoming a major success in the U.S. or China, where it has virtually no presence. But the opportunity to carve out a new way forward in emerging markets is clear. BlackBerry might never be the smartphone behemoth it once was, but the company might just want to drop the Superbowl commercial next year.

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About The Author /

Nick Waddell
Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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