Picking More Blackberries than Apples in Latin America

Few people could fault Latin America observers for missing an issue of The Gleaner, a Jamaican daily and online news portal. But struggling Canadian Research in Motion will take heart that the island is abuzz with news that Blackberry’s upcoming phone platform will allow for effective texting in patois. 

In case you missed the best part:

“It will learn to speak the way you talk and can add words to the dictionary. So if you write ‘yeah’ it will add ‘yeah man’,” explained Maria Aleiandra Perez-Rincon senior manager portfolio management at RIM.

Or the top-rated comment:

Patois

Facing a nosedive across the world as Google’s Android platform and Apple’s iPhone eat up market share, one of RIM’s sunnier markets has been Latin America. From the creme-de-la-creme down to the hoi polloi, Blackberry is still a status symbol across the region. Go to a bar in Bogota and everyone’s flirting on BBM, do business over lunch in Mexico City and executives are glued to their blinking red light.

Although its preponderance is starting to wane in places like Brazil, Blackberry has proven resilient to competition in many emerging markets. But why Latin America?

Let’s look to the main competitor for smartphone cache, Apple. There’s little doubt that Apple products have quickly gained a certain cache across the region. But Apple has no retail footprint in Latin America. Repeat. Apple has no retail footprint in Latin America. Given the centrality of the Apple Store experience to the growth of the company’s influence, and the fact that most Latin American consumers are still unfamiliar with Apple’s user experience, this is a big problem for Apple and will be one for years to come.

Blackberry, on the other hand, has years of brand and physical presence in Latin America and a vast and unfussy distribution strategy with carriers across the region. It also has a much lower price point, a key selling point for tech-hungry new entrants to the middle class. Unlike Apple, Blackberry also boasts product differentiation that allows for multiple price points across the same platform. They’re even investing in the Latin user experience, with a new development center in Buenos Aires aimed at fostering collaboration between local developers and RIM’s platform. 

It might be a dubious honor to be the coolest piece of technology in Haiti, but for a brand to be loved across Latin America is no small feat (ironically two of RIM’s strongest markets in Europe are Spain and Portugal). It remains to be seen if Blackberry can come back from near death in the U.S. and Europe, but in the meantime Latin Americans, Africans and Southeast Asians will BBM in patois with brio.

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