A month into his new role, BlackBerry India managing director Sunil Lalvani says his company will not ape competition strategies of price drops or liquidating old stock, but will bet on offering value to drive its sales. The Canadian smartphone maker also has no intention to get into the $100 (approx Rs 5,600) device market in India, he told ET in an interview.
About the plans to offer BlackBerry Messenger free on Android and iOS platforms, Lalvani says there is a possibility of losing customers to rivals but adds that it may also bring customers back to BlackBerry devices because they can connect to friends using other smartphones. Edited excerpts:
BlackBerry Messenger will soon be made available for free for Google Android and Apple iOS devices. Will this change your revenue model in India, where telcos offer paid plans for BBM alone for around Rs 129 a month? Have you initiated talks with mobile operators for renegotiation of revenue share?
We have very strong relations with top nine carriers in India and we're well-positioned to exploit this as we can grow the market and get BBM into more users, across platforms. We can also get BES10 (BlackBerry Enterprise Service), which now manages enterprise customers across Android, BB and iOS, and monetize this.
So overall, it becomes a revenue share for carriers and us. It's too early to say about negotiations with carriers as we're still unclear as to when will iOS and Android approve BBM on their app stores and whether they will charge for these apps.
BlackBerry India's largest user base — the youth — buy the smartphone for the BBM experience. If BBM is available on other platforms, then these consumers may move to, say, iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. What will BlackBerry do to keep these customers from moving to other brands?
If a user wants to move on the basis of price consideration, because he would get a $100 (approx Rs5,600) Android device where we don't have an equivalent, then they will switch. We may not be able to retain a customer whose prime consideration is budget or price.
On the contrary, we might find a scenario where loyal customers that had moved on from BlackBerry coming back now that they will be able to connect to their friends through BlackBerry cross platform. Further, the first-time smartphone owners could also come to BlackBerry (Curve) because cross platform BBM is not restricting them to a small user group. We have begun offering the new Curve for EMI of Rs 799 and data plans for as low as Rs 129 for tier 2 and 3 circles, focusing on first time users.
Do you think new handsets will push up market share? And if BlackBerry does not bring handsets in quick succession like Samsung does, would you be able to compete at all?
We're not here to ape competition strategy of price drops, or to liquidate old stock or inventory like some companies are doing. India has always been top priority market for BlackBerry globally. Z10 was launched in India within a month of global launch and India will be the second country in Asia Pacific to get the Q10. We're not indulging in price wars with competition or massive cash back offers, but we're offering value.
We have ensured that total cost of ownership of a BlackBerry comes down, so we lowered data plan prices from Rs 299 to Rs 129 a month for 15 circles, for full BlackBerry experience. We've rolled this out with Aircel, Idea and Vodafone. We're in talks with other operators to taking it pan-India
You say India is one of the top priority markets for BlackBerry globally, but the Z10 and the upcoming Q10 don't exhibit the element of affordability that most Indian consumers look out for...
We don't want to play in all the handset market segments, from under $50 to over $500, because we don't have the portfolio. We don't want to set false pretexts by saying that we will be there in the $100 segment. The Q10 (to be launched day after) and Z10 are placed as premium devices in the market for which, we know, that the consumer will pay a premium for the value they offer. We're addressing the customer base that owns a $100 device and is now looking to upgrade to a $300 (approx Rs 17,000) smartphone. With the Q5, which will come on the BB10 platform, we're targeting the urban youth.