SmartPhone Race Jamaica - Why so many Blackberries?

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written by owen on 2012-Jan-23.

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It has been a few weeks since my last article on Blackberrys - Why they are still cool but it seems that the circle jerk in the fandom is increasing to the point of blind optimism. So I have come back to provide some objectivity.

In this article, I will delve further in to the various social,cultural and economic reasons why (in my humble opinion) the smart phone race in Jamaica will be a long and boring battle. Full disclosure; I have recently bought a BB after years watching and analysing the cellphone market both locally and abroad. I should also say that the Dominican Republic has the best cellphone network in the region. Now, back to the article, I will run across stereotypes, cliches and general opinions based on my personal observations and educated guesses based on...well speculation.

Jamaicans have limited reasources

Jamaicans will only spend their money on things that they cannot get for free, cheap or things that they think are valuable. The credit culture in the end it is all about practicality and a lower cost of ownership - it is not about being “cutting edge” or “trendy”. Why would they spend a small fortune on a smart phone just so that they can download free apps? It is almost like buying a big plasma tv for the benefit of watching burnt DVDs.

Jamaicans Hate Contracts

The majority of the iphones and Android phones require post paid plans, long contracts, lots of cash up front or both. The Jamaican cellphone users are on Pre-Paid plans and withdraw their money in a $1000 dollars at a time from the ATM. It is not because there is not a better, faster or more efficient way - they are just fear varies forms of ENTRAPMENT. Two bills, a bank statement and down payment? Yeah sounds pretty affordable compared to AT&T. Phones get dropped, stolen, sold to pay for car insurance, and left in taxis, it happens everyday in Jamaica.

Slow Phone Networks

Not only are the local networks slow, but in some places you cannot even get dial-up speeds because the coverage is just not up to par - unless you happen tospend all your time in New Kingston or a major town. I hope to see the day when we can do some of the stuff we see in those phone ads on cable. But that day is not today or tomorrow, maybe in 3 years (sans apocalyse). Many people cannot afford (and probably do not know how to) to connect to WIFI to download their Apps because connecting to WIFI would mean that you are either paying for home internet+your cellphone bill or you are squatting on free WIFI for several hours of the day.

Jamaicans do not care about Apps

There are several reasons why phone “apps” are not important; Firstly apps cost money ; free apps are usually bait for paid versions and Apps need to be purchased with credit cards from phone specific app stores. Thirdly, apps cannot be shared from phone to phone - which is not a problem for some but the layman may find it a bit strange. Finally, Apps provide services which compliment similar services provided on a computer, so until there is a proliferation of computer science education, most Jamaicans will have no reason to go searching around an App Market for a potentially useful app - unless its a app that prints money or a game. There are so many cheaper forms of entertainment in Jamaica which brings the argument back to cost and value. An app will have to be quite impressive in order to draw locals away from the local dancehall and stage show. It is nice and sunny in the tropics, BBM popular because its a means of communication not because it is a “app”.

Jamaicans it seems are not so interested in having smartphones, despite the competitive pricing arguments for Wireless 3G Data as noted in Ryan’s Geezam blog article entitled “LIME, The iPhone 4 And The Death Of The Blackberry”, as the Blackberry is still king here. - Lindsworth.

We Are Wagonists

Jamaicans like the things that they see their friends are using. Which are this point its the network that gives them the most freeness (see point 1), BBM and phones that offer them cool features out of the box. Added to this fact that the majority of Jamaicans are either poor or are pretending to be rich so they will spend their money on a phone(s) that they can afford or a phone they can save for without taking out a mortgage.

All touch screen phones are the same

To a Jamaican consumer, a cellphone falls into 4 categories: a budget phone, a RazR, a BlackBerry, or a touch screen phone. If you see one Android phone, you have seen them all, no matter how you choose to customize the home screen - its the same thing. Baring technical hardware details every android phone on the market is the same to the large majority of consumers. I once saw a sales representative try to explain to a middle aged woman that the phone she was looking at was in fact a Nokia and not a Iphone, it was hilarious, she was absolutely convinced that it was a iphone. There are also a few people who have a natural born “hatred” for touch screen phones - I am not sure why. Not to mention the people with 2 left hands and greasy fingers.

Jamaicans Like to be different

When I say different, I mean physically different, not merely shifting widgets around their home screen. Different as in some people like flip phones, phones that are thin, phones that come in different colors, etc. Now compare this to the iphone or android which basically are all touch screen phones with slighly different screen sizes and processors which are mainly differentiated by the frequent hardware and software release updates. Back in the day we used to call these updates "service packs". You see now the problem with Android is that once you get it in your hand they all appear to be the same phone to the average user - its a speed race.


Now I have nothing against the Iphone, the fragmented Android OS, or the Windows Phone 7 which is defective by design. Before Steve Jobs bucked the trend, touchscreen phones where seen as impractical and unresponsive - now in the present day the marketing has positioned them “god sent devices”. Next they will be pushing touch pads and e-readers, and then later this year "Ultrabooks" will be the must have gadget for tech professionals who have disposable income.

Breaking into the Jamaican market is going to take more than just big screens and Apps. You will have to provide a diverse selection of phones that are cheap to own, offer data-plans which affordable to the common man while gradually improving the network infrastructure. Distributors should focus on low-end feature phones, instead of the high-end, high cost and complicated smart phones that you have to “sync”.

There is always a new fad on the market, and with fads come lonely people looking for others to join their party. The masses may join eventually but some markets follow, while other markets pop dem own style and beat at a different drum.


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  1. Good Lord man, this article of yours is ridiculous! How is the Android OS fragmented? How is WP7 defective? You must be one of the few people in the world that believes that RIM is doing a good job. You're delusional.

    by KB 2012-Jan-24 

  2. I didn't say they were doing a good job. I am outlining a few reasons why everybody is not running out to buy touchscreen phones. You can search online for "fragmented", won't take you long to find it.

    by owen 2012-Jan-24 

  3. im almost sure that bbm is offered via app world which would making it an "app", the only reason why blackberry is the "king" in jamaica is because of bbm. the best thing any of the local phone companies could have done was to have the bb social plan cause thats all they do on their blackberries, ping, nothing else. the iphone and other touch screen phones are at a disadvantage because the local telecoms refuse to or are unable to offer a proper data and call package similar to what is offered in the states. im sure if you go to new york or miami and ask someone to send you a ring tone or picture they wouldnt send it you via bluetooth or bbm, they would simply send it as an mms, why, they get unlimited texting cross network so dont blame the other mobile phones for the inability of the networks

    by dre 2012-Jan-24 

  4. I think it is more than just BBM, its cheaper to own, its like saying people buy nokia's because they like the nokia ringtone. If they had the nokia ring tone on another phone they would stop buying nokia phones. It is king because it is cheap.
    BBM is what we call a first party software. Apps are third party software. Its like how safari looks like an app but its not really a "app" because it has special privileges. Actually safari is protected system software provided by Apple. Its not an "App" and third parties are not allowed to create "apps" which offer the same features such as "firefox".

    by owen 2012-Jan-24 

  5. I have gotten quiet a few calls from ppl saying they can't find bbm on their phones even search results turn up blank. I never heard a iPhone user say omg I can't safari, regard less anything apart from the operating system is an app. U do realize that by ur definition calculator and solitare are not applications or apps for windows but system software. And blackberries not cheaper than any other phone iPhone n wat ever matching generation bb cost the same

    by dre 2012-Jan-24 

  6. On Android devices they are refered to as "privileged apps". I am sure you are aware of what makes them different from the other applications but then again you are probably not - I suggest you read up on root access.
    Post some prices as a point of comparison to validate your "matching generation" claim because seriously who cares? I see people using BBs that are 5 years old.

    by owen 2012-Jan-24 

  7. I'm with Owen on this one. Let me say it again. I'm with Owen on this one. Let me say it again. I'm with Owen on this one. Let me say it again. I'm with Owen on this one.

    by Mad Bull 2012-Jan-28 

  8. Jamaicans should concentrate on being better as a people rather than rushing to buy a blackberry all for the sake of status.

    by bunyonb 2012-Mar-01 

  9. I don't think there is such a thing as being "better as a people".

    by owen 2012-Jun-05