technology

After Indonesia stampede, even good news turns bad for RIM

TECHNOLOGY REPORTER — The Globe and Mail

This file photo taken on November 25, 2011 shows security personnel evacuating a man after he collapsed while queueing for discounted BlackBerry smart phones at a mall in Jakarta. (DANNY/DANNY/AFP/Getty Images)

It was a badly needed blip of good news for a company that just can’t seem to catch a break.

As Research In Motion Ltd. continues to face barrages of harsh criticism – over its dwindling market share, its lacklustre array of new smartphones and its unsuccessful PlayBook tablet – the company’s phenomenal growth in overseas markets has burnished its dented reputation.

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But now, following a choreographed BlackBerry launch that went disastrously awry, RIM may be facing a criminal investigation in one of its most crucial markets for smartphones.

In these dark times, no market has burned brighter for RIM than Indonesia. RIM has huge market share in the Southeast Asian archipelago, and device launches there are highly anticipated events – so much so that RIM decided to debut in Jakarta its Bold 9790, an affordable but sleek smartphone designed to reaffirm RIM’s commitment to emerging markets.

Subsequent photographs of massive lineups outside a Jakarta shopping centre – prompted at least in part because the first 1,000 customers would get their devices 50 per cent off – provided a jolt of positive publicity, even as RIM’s share of the United States’ smartphone market sagged to 9 per cent from 24 per cent a year earlier, according to recent research from Canalys.

But those line-ups turned into a stampede. Numerous people passed out in the crush, and several were hospitalized. “After the event, staff from RIM, together with others involved in the event, visited Hospital Jakarta to extend our support and sympathy to those injured,” RIM said in a news release on Dec. 2.

On Monday, a Reuters news service report said Indonesian police were getting ready to lay charges against a RIM executive involved in the Jakarta promotional event. The company only said that “no RIM employees have been charged and that the company is co-operating with the Indonesia law enforcement.”

This came after a terrible week for the company in which hackers “jailbroke” their way into the PlayBook tablet, two RIM executives were suspended after drunken behaviour that forced a Beijing-bound Air Canada flight to land in Vancouver, and the company preannounced dismal financial results on Friday that caused the stock to drop about 9 per cent. Also on Monday, RIM said the two executives, who were each charged more than $35,000 after delaying other passengers by about 18 hours, were no longer with the company.

“RIM does not condone behaviour that conflicts with applicable laws and employees are expected to act, at all times, with integrity and respect,” the company said. “The individuals involved in this incident are no longer employed by RIM.”

The frequency and severity of bad news assailing the Waterloo, Ont.-based company, which is both profitable and debt-free, at times veers on the absurd. Kaan Yigit, who tracks trends and brands in the technology and digital media space for Toronto-based Solutions Research Group, says he’s left shaking his head in disbelief.

“It’s unbelievable, but RIM became the Rodney Dangerfield of the tech world in just a short 18-month period,” he said.

Follow on Twitter: @iainmarlow

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