Recently, the BlackBerry Curve 8910 launched with Digital China. The success of BlackBerry in China is interesting because the market brings some incredible potential especially since trade with the country has been running at a deficit for most Western countries. If Research in Motion can sell a few million devices in China, they will set a standard for the smartphone industry.
Li Tong is RIM’s General Manager in China and he sat down with BerryTimes.cn for an interview during the BlackBerry Curve 8910 launch. The interview has some interesting questions from a Chinese user perspective that highlight a lot of what RIM is going to need to work on in order to be successful in the region.
There are two main issues that must be dealt with from a user perspective. The first issue is the price and accessibility. Many users find that the price of a BlackBerry is simply too great in China. The current focus of Digital China, a leading IT products and services company, is to provide business solutions for telecom, finance and government sectors meaning the Curve 8910 launch is geared towards enterprise users. This brings up the issue of whether BlackBerry will be available to BIS customers in China via Digital China or China Mobile or China Telecom. There doesn’t seem to be any official word of whether BlackBerrys will be available to customers on BIS, and BES significantly drives up the price and barriers to access.
The problem seems to be a that China Mobile has a lot of work to do before BIS BlackBerrys can be made available. While BlackBerry is network optimized, they also need to debug the device on China Mobile’s billing system in a closed beta. At the recent App World 2.0 event, RIM announced that App World would be available on all OS 5 devices. Perhaps App World 2.0 carrier billing is an element of this testing. There was no official word but it sounds like BIS BlackBerrys will be available this year.
The second major frustration with BlackBerry users in China is centered around the input method. It seems that the BlackBerry is not totally localized, and there were rumors that a better input method was being developed. Tong points to the official Sina microblog, the Chinese equivalent of Inside BlackBerry’s official twitter account, saying that many users are indeed requesting better localized support and they are in fact working on one. Some elements of this research have made it into the Curve 8910, but there weren’t any specifics discussed.
It also seems there is an official Sina Microblogging client for BlackBerry in the works. Sina is a giant Chinese web portal similar to Yahoo! and they have a microblogging service similar to Twitter. The microblogging client is available for iPhone, Android, S60 and KJAVA and perhaps a BlackBerry version will be on its way as RIM Asia see it as an important communication tool, much like Twitter for BlackBerry.
Some BlackBerryCool readers have asked about how the Chinese government feels about access to private data on BlackBerry. Back in 2007/2008, the Indian government wanted a back door for snooping on BlackBerry emails. They insisted that RIM build into their NOC infrastructure a means for the Indian government to access emails. RIM denied them this request as it’s central to their business. BlackBerry prides itself on being a totally secure pipe, which allows them to sell to high-end clients such as the American military. The Indian government insisted local telecoms decompress emails and weaken the network to help them hack the BlackBerry email infrastructure. The government was still unable to crack the BES end-to-end AES or Triple DES encryption. The Chinese government may take a similar approach, but will most certainly be less vocal about it.
China is the ultimate market for any smartphone manufacturer and RIM is positioned better than any other. The iPhone is too expensive and Google has burned that bridge. The main competition in China is local smartphone manufacturers and companies such as MediaTek that can provide ultra low cost mobile phone components, creating a plethora of new competitors.