The iPhone is by no means king of the smartphones in Indonesia. That distinction belongs to the BlackBerry, which reigns over the entire archipelago.
People in the workplace are expected to own a BlackBerry and having someone ask for your PIN is as common as asking your last name.
Yes, it’s apparently hip to own a BlackBerry. They’re everywhere, from elementary school playgrounds to nanny waiting areas. Wherever you look you can see thumbs tapping on keypads.
BlackBerry’s Indonesian recipe is simple: it’s the most affordable smartphone out there and mobile network providers have raced to offer the cheapest plan possible. Indonesia is one of the first countries to offer a buffet of BlackBerry services with daily, weekly and monthly options.
What sets it apart from the iPhone is BB Messenger. The unlimited data plan that comes with a BlackBerry allows users to send unlimited messages to fellow users via BlackBerry Messenger. It’s as easy as posting a Facebook status.
Speaking of Facebook, it’s also a killer application that has misled the uninformed masses into thinking that Facebook was a BlackBerry creation. There’s also the push e-mail feature, which is essential for anyone trying to keep up in today’s work environment.
Local BlackBerry application developers say they would be more motivated to develop iPhone apps because writing them is apparently a lot less complicated than writing BlackBerry apps. However, there are too few iPhones in Indonesia to make it worthwhile. News portal detik.com says there are about 20,000 iPhones here compared to more than half a million BlackBerrys. Thus it makes little business sense for the developers to pursue iPhone apps.
Which brings me to my point. To be successful a device needs to have killer apps or killer features. It needs to have something extremely valuable that does not exist in other devices, or does so in far less impressive or useful form.
For example, back in the late 1970s and early ’80s, the Apple II family was a massive hit for Apple because it had a spreadsheet application called VisiCalc. Prior to this, any kind of calculations had to be done on paper or on blackboards. When it came to business projections, which can span weeks or even years, having several blackboards was the way to go.
This triggered activity in the personal computer industry, prompting Lotus to release its own spreadsheet app called 1-2-3, which was available for non-Apple computers and helped change the industry as well as business forever.
BlackBerry can thank push e-mail and BB Messenger for its huge popularity. People have a need to communicate and the more they can do so and the cheaper they can do it, the better for them.
It’s clear that BlackBerry’s strength in the eyes of Indonesians are the affordable plans that allow unlimited data for under $20 per month. This provides a platform for BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook, Twitter and all the e-mails one could possibly desire.
Apple’s iPhones are popular almost everywhere else in the world because they’re sold at affordable prices, and in some cases are given away for free. Users of the iPhone laud its flexibility and the more than 100,000 apps that are available on Apple’s App Store, which has been available to iPhone and iPod Touch owners in Indonesia with locally issued credit cards since July 11, 2008. Apple has been touting the 100,000 plus apps, but makes no specific mention of the number of apps available in individual countries. Applications stores for other smartphones are nowhere near as large because developers are concentrating on designing for Apple’s App Store.
Google’s Android hasn’t been that popular since its launch in August for a number of reasons, including HTC’s trademark battle with a local company, which prompted it to pull out of the country for several months. The latest word from an insider is that HTC has won its case and should be back selling smartphones in Indonesia within several weeks.
In Indonesia the iPhone is expensive. It is sold exclusively by Telkomsel for $700-$800 (from around $1,000 to $1,200 after the initial launch), complete with a 500 MB data plan that tends to leak for no apparent reason. It also has a pitiful package for voice calls, SMS and tethering, and there is little in the way of marketing, meaning there is little reason for Indonesians to make the switch.
Late last year, more affordable data plans surfaced from competing mobile networks. If Telkomsel iPhone 3G owners want to switch to other networks, a simple restore of the phone’s operating system will unlock the phone and allow them to migrate.
What Telkomsel needs to do is come up with a very strong and practical reason for people to buy iPhones. A phone, no matter how advanced, will not sell itself, especially when there is little support from the network provider. The strength of the iPhone is that it’s arguably the most flexible mobile computing device on the planet.
Telkomsel needs to recognize that fact and build on it by getting local iPhone developers to build killer apps, preferably with a strong local flavor.
The hottest thing right now is social networking. Facebook has its own app for each platform, Twitter relies on third-party developers, while Indonesia has Koprol, a location-based social networking service that was launched about a year ago.
Koprol lets you share your location and photos with friends and people nearby. It also lets you leave reviews of places such as malls, restaurants and other sites of interest. However, overseas competitors such as Foursquare and Gowalla are beginning to make inroads.
Telkomsel would do well to team up with Koprol to create an iPhone app. Koprol is not in desperate need of an iPhone app but Telkomsel needs to get those iPhones out the door. It’s near the bottom of Apple’s list of iPhone partners with regards to sales numbers. South Korea’s KT launched the iPhone 3GS in late November and managed to sell at least 100,000 units by the middle of December.
Telkomsel could also get shopping malls all over the country to link up with developers to create their own iPhone apps. Constantly updated mall guides on iPhones that can tell people about the stores, their promotions and the location of available parking spaces in their respective parking lots would be something that is not only useful for iPhone owners but would serves as an advertising/promotional platform for the malls and their tenants.
To get more users, it needs more appropriate apps. And not just any app but apps that are relevant to them — practical, useful and worthwhile apps. More important, users need to know how and where to get them.
Believe it or not, many Indonesian iPhone users are unaware that there are more than 100,000 apps available, tens of thousands of which are free. Many of them don’t even know that they can install apps on their phones.
A handful of one-shot low-engagement public events aren’t going to help raise that awareness. Telkomsel needs to show how an iPhone can be a boon to people’s daily lives.