Prospects in a all-work-no-play Japanese society for the BlackBerry

by Benjamin Freeland

In today’s globalized, telecommunications-driven world, nothing serves better to highlight the extent of a product or service’s penetration in ociety than a good, old-fashioned breakdown. A 15-minute blackout at the headquarters of the internet search giant Google, in May of 2005, left millions stranded in cyberspace and prompted global fears that the world’s largest search engine had been hacked. In a similar incident, a “critical severity outage” on February 12 of this year at the Waterloo, Ontario nerve center of the Canadian wireless communication company Research In Motion Ltd.—the producer of the enormously popular Black-Berry handheld communication device—resulted in a four-hour shutdown of BlackBerry service throughout North America on the eve of three US presidential primaries, wreaking havoc within political and business circles. While this mishap, which was not the first of its kind, led to serious questions about the reliability of its parent company’s infrastructure, it did serve as a sort of ironic endorsement of the device, underlining the extent to which this iconic gadget has succeeded in rendering itself vital to its roughly 12 million worldwide users.

The BlackBerry, which supports push email, mobile telephone, text messaging, internet faxing, web browsing and other wireless services all in a single unit, has enjoyed enormous success since its introduction in 1999, and owes its catchy moniker to the miniature full QWERTY keyboard featured on most of its handsets, which experts at Lexicon Branding Inc. likened to the seeds of a berry. Primarily renowned for its ability to send and receive e-mail anywhere within the ambit of the wireless networks of affiliated cellular phone carriers, the device, while originally designed for business use, has seen a surge in third-party applications in recent years thanks to its user-friendly design and vast swathe of functions. Moreover, the BlackBerry’s failsafe encryption and security features, created with corporate data security in mind, have helped popularize the device with politicians, executives and other people mindful of their privacy, and have also inadvertently made it ubiquitous within many organized crime circles, posing a major law enforcement challenge.

…this iconic gadget has succeeded
in rendering itself vital to it’s rougly
12 million worldwide users.

The popularity of the BlackBerry has grown to such an extent in recent years that, in North America in particular, a growing number of companies and organizations have sought to place limits on its use. A notoriously addictive gadget that has come to be known in popular parlance as the ‘CrackBerry’, many consider the BlackBerry to be an apt symbol for today’s uncontrolled, ever-more-intrusive information-driven culture, as it effectively eliminates all boundaries between office and private life. Some workplaces have banned the device from meetings, notably the Ontario provincial government under Premier Dalton McGuinty, who explained “It’s really hard to receive information and be thoughtful at the same time.” Nevertheless, use of the ‘CrackBerry’ and other similar Smartphone devices shows no sign of abating, and Research In Motion continues to expand the range of models and functions offered, with the latest models now offering full multimedia support.

While the past decade has seen the BlackBerry become a ubiquitous business tool in much of the world, it was not until the fall of 2006 that RIM decided to link arms with NTT DoCoMo and introduce its prize contraption to Japan’s highly saturated mobile phone market. RIM’s approach to the Japanese market has been a conservative one; marketing of the BlackBerry has thus far been limited to corporate clients, with particular emphasis on foreign multinationals, from which there has been considerable interest in the BlackBerry. According to RIM Japan representative Morihito Kobayashi, the primary motivating force behind corporate interest in the BlackBerry is a desire for better security. “Many companies don’t want their employees emailing each other via mobile phones because of security issues,” explains Kobayashi. “The BlackBerry solves this problem.” Moreover, as Kobayashi explains, the BlackBerry 8707h model that has being marketed in Japan offers unrivalled flexibility and range, features fully Japanese functions and can be used worldwide. While the 8707h is sold only in Japan, the 8707 series (including the 8707g and 8707v) are sold worldwide, and all can be used in Japan, and Japanese BlackBerries can also be rented courtesy of CellHire Mobile Solutions Japan.

While the device’s introduction to Japan has been met with great enthusiasm within the expatriate community, many have raised doubts that the BlackBerry will achieve anywhere near the success it has achieved elsewhere. Japanese language software for the BlackBerry 8707h was not made available until July of last year, thus far limiting its spread, and the bewildering array of functions offered by Japan’s domestic keitai, allowing one to pass through train station turnstiles and recognize stellar constellations by way of a handset, mean uphill work for the people at RIM. Moreover, some have suggested that the functions that have made the BlackBerry so invaluable to professionals from Vancouver to Mumbai to Johannesburg are less relevant in the context of Japanese business culture, in which long office hours remain the norm and overwhelming emphasis is placed on face-to-face communication. Furthermore, very few Japanese companies have systems in place capable of synching office email networks with devices such as BlackBerries, thus presenting an additional barrier.

In spite of these obstacles, however, RIM Japan’s Kobayashi is optimistic as to the BlackBerry’s prospects in Japan. “We are starting with the  multinationals, and then moving on to domestic companies, and in future we will expand further.” Moreover, the BlackBerry’s enormous popularity among business professionals the world over bodes well for its eventual spread in a society that is ever keen to keep up with overseas trends.

External Link:
BlackBerry in Japan