The Bangkok battle for smartphone supremacy

The Bangkok battle for smartphone supremacy

Bangkok is becoming a smartphone city, as brands like BlackBerry lean on celeb endorsements and social media to boost their appeal
BlackBerry in Thailand
Though we can't be certain, we're willing to bet Research In Motion's Southeast Asia GM, Gregory Wade, has a BlackBerry in his hand.

The battle between global smartphone makers is roaring in Bangkok, with devout users absolutely certain their smartphone is the best smartphone out there.

The last year was particularly successful in Thailand for BlackBerry smartphone maker Research In Motion (RIM). Though the company doesn't release sales figures, the trading of BlackBerry messenger PINs and the sight and sound of a BlackBerry on every corner even provoked rumblings of consumer backlash as 'BB' fever spread through Thailand like a virus. (One CNNGo writer wrote about her distaste for BB users late last year.) 

So what was it that led many of the estimated 1.5 million buyers of smartphones in 2009 to go BlackBerry crazy? The influence of celebrities and leading business figures was a factor, says Gregory Wade, RIM managing director, Southeast Asia. 
“Thais love celebrities and want the chance to share experiences with their favorites,” he says. “Our social influencers are passionate about discussing why BlackBerry is meaningful to their lives and business.” 

Social networking is undoubtedly another, with Thailand recognized as Facebook’s second highest growing global market. Thais have flocked to social networks over the last year, using their smartphones to receive 24-hour, in-your-pocket mobile Internet access to feed the addiction to sites like Facebook, Twitter and newcomer Foursquare

“My friends and I love our BlackBerry phones,” says Nam, 19, a first year student at Silpakorn University. “The Facebook application is my favorite because it lets me keep up to date with friends and post pictures whenever I like.” 

Smartphones no longer just for the elite

With considerably more functionality than just phone calls, smartphones can often be as expensive as computers. However, Singapore-based Wade believes that the range and choice of smartphones has lowered the entry price and opened the market, once reserved for business executives and the affluent. 

“Choice in the marketplace is important for consumers,” he says, “we believe there is a BlackBerry for everyone.” 

BlackBerry’s growth and popularity in Thailand owes much to this choice. Whilst Apple’s iPhone has a cult following across the world, it is just one 23,000 baht phone against the BlackBerry range which runs from the “entry-level” 8520 Curve at 12,000 baht to the high-end 23,000 baht Bold. 

Pricing isn’t enough to deter many from buying an iPhone however. 

“My iPhone was expensive but it was the phone I wanted,” says Aue, 29, from Bangkok. “It carries all my music and the apps make it so much better than anything else.” 

Smartphone loans in Thailand?

Affording a smartphone could become a little easier if a trend from neighboring Indonesia catches on here. Banks and loan companies are offering specialized finance to help tech-mad Indonesians get their hands on the latest smartphones. As it stands, in Thailand, buying a smartphone takes some saving, or a good wage. 

This month RIM has added to Thailand's high-end smartphones market with the launch of its iPhone-competing BlackBerry Bold 9700. An updated version of the company’s flagship device priced at 23,000 baht, the new Bold boasts its predecessor’s features along with an optical track-pad mouse, double the internal memory (256 MB) and a smaller, more compact design.

“Thais love to adopt the latest technology,” Wade told a group of media assembled at the recent launch of the new Bold. “We believe this will be a key device for the Thai market.” 

With Android joining Apple and RIM in the smartphone market and the much-hyped Google phone, the Nexus One, a little further away, 2010 is set to offer even more choice for smartphone lovers in Thailand. All that is missing is mass market 3G, but that is another story altogether.

Jon is a twenty-something Brit expatriated in Thailand since 2008, though you won’t hear him complaining about it.
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