Why do Indonesians Still Love BlackBerry?

Social media and superior privacy give the messenger service a new mojo

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 12 Aug 2016

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In a move to boost its software business amid declining handset sales, Canadian tech company BlackBerry announced a strategic alliance with one of Indonesia’s top media companies, PT Elang Mahkota Teknologi Tbk (Emtek). A licensing agreement with the Emtek Group will enable the company to develop new BBM applications and services for iOS, Android, and Windows phones. The deal is expected to provide BBM users access to enriched content and services. 

The deal is not surprising because, unlike the rest of Southeast Asia, BlackBerry is still big in Indonesia. A Nielsen study cited by The Jakarta Post shows nearly 80% of Indonesians use BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), the Internet-based instant messaging app included on BlackBerry devices. In 2013, BBM was released on Android and iOS systems, thereby allowing people to use the app on other devices.

Adrian Li, founder and managing partner at Jakarta-based venture capital firm Convergence Ventures, uses BBM frequently to communicate with friends in Indonesia. “As one of the earliest applications doing chat, the company has had a long time to build and optimize a strong feature set that extends beyond pure messaging,” he says.

BBM tops the list in Indonesia as both the most installed app and the one with the most active daily users, ahead of popular messaging apps in Asia like LINE, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp, according to a ranking done by U.S.-based Jana.

At its peak, Blackberry sold 2.5 million BlackBerry devices in 2011 in Indonesia. Christina Zhou, Jana’s international operations manager, says, “So it's no surprise that BBM, which came preinstalled on all Blackberries, has continued to stay at the top even while users have overwhelmingly switched from Blackberry to Android phones."   

Here are two reasons why BBM is still the messaging app of choice for many Indonesians:

1. Most of their friends continue to use it

“Indonesians love chatting with each other and the biggest driver of messaging app success is network effects—if your friends are using a specific messaging app, you will too in order to reach them where they are,” Zhou says.

Indonesians are likely using BBM because many of their contacts who once had BlackBerry phones continue to use BBM as their primary messaging app even as they have migrated to other devices, according to the report from Jana. A Nielsen study revealed that 48% of Indonesian phone users previously had BlackBerry phones.

Li adds that even with the advent of other chat applications, there is still a strong user base attached to BBM. “Previously you often saw many users with multiple phones, with a secondary phone, such as BlackBerry, being primarily for email and for BBM. Once the cross-platform BBM was launched, it also saw strong adoption especially for Indonesian users,” he says.

2. It offers unique privacy features

“During in-market interviews, we heard consistently that BBM's guaranteed privacy & security is the biggest reason Indonesians still use it instead of, or along with, other popular apps like WhatsApp and LINE,” Zhou says.

Internet entrepreneur Li believes BBM is still one of the most secure messaging platforms. Similar to how the messaging feature worked on BlackBerry devices, users of the app are given a BBM PIN that enables them to create an account without having to share their phone number or email address. They can also block contacts, allowing more control on who can send them messages.

BBM has the ability to retract messages and photos even after they have already been sent. However, this will only remove the message from the chat view of the recipient, which means it does not prevent them from taking screenshots or copies of the message that the recipient has already made.