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BlackBerry boom in Indonesia

By Atika Shubert, CNN
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BlackBerry boom in Indonesia
  • BlackBerry smart phones are increasingly popular with customers in Indonesia
  • Patchy and expensive home Internet access make the phones good alternatives for Internet access
  • Rise in digital social networking in Indonesia makes BlackBerry's keyboard good selling point

Jakarta, Indonesia (CNN) -- The BlackBerry is king... in Indonesia, anyway.

It's hard to go anywhere in Jakarta, the nation's busy capital, without seeing someone using one of these ubiquitous smart phones.

In the city's shopping malls, the BlackBerry logo is advertised everywhere and sellers offer everything from the latest, the Blackberry Onyx, to much cheaper, older models.

In its battle with Apple's iPhone, BlackBerry is the clear winner here. Sellers at one Jakarta mall told CNN they routinely sell about 5 or 6 Blackberries a day. In comparison they sell only one iPhone a day, at the most.

"BlackBerry phones are much more trendy and fashionable than the iPhone," one seller told CNN. "Hardly anyone asks for an iPhone."

So just why is the BlackBerry so popular in Indonesia?

One reason is price. Blackberry phones cost about $500 when sold new, compared to an iPhone that costs around $900. But if bought on Indonesia's "gray market" -- in order words, smuggled in tax free -- then a BlackBerry can be purchased for around $300.

That caters not just to Indonesia's high-end businessmen but also to the country's growing and fashion-conscious middle class.

Another reason is accessibility. Indonesia's Internet infrastructure is expensive and not always reliable. Getting a home broadband connection can cost as much as $100 a month. For many Indonesians, it's easier, and cheaper, to get a web-enabled phone.

Used less for surfing the net than digital social networking, BlackBerry phones' keyboards have also been a real selling point. The iPhone's touch screen has less appeal in this respect. (Read more on the rise of social media in Southeast Asia)

"I've heard the touch screen isn't so great," one college student buying her first BlackBerry told CNN. "All my friends use the BlackBerry to email. That's why I'm getting one."

BlackBerry manufacturer, Research in Motion, wouldn't release country-specific figures but said that Indonesia is an important part of its Asia strategy. Indonesia holds a lot of potential.

The ROA Group, a mobile phone research group, estimates that by next year half of Indonesia's 250 million people will have a mobile phone.

But BlackBerry may not be on top for long. Local provider XL is now offering a service that gives mobile phone users limited web-access to Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo mail.

For many users, that's all they need and the cost of the service is only about a dollar a day.