Research in Motion’s (RIM) PlayBook tablet is scheduled to launch in Indonesia in August, news that should have set the country’s legions of BlackBerry fans alight with anticipation. Instead, the announcement was met with an indifferent shrug — PlayBooks have been available on the country’s thriving technology black market for weeks.
Vicky, a vendor at Mall Ambassador in Jakarta, a bustling hub for all things electronic, had stocks of the PlayBook last month, even ahead of the product’s global launch in New York.
“I’m not sure exactly where these are from. They come here on boats. We usually get stuff like this from Mexico or the US,” she said.
Analysts say the black market costs the government millions of dollars in unpaid consumption taxes, but it is happy to turn a blind eye to the illegal trade because telecommunications generate so much money in other ways.
“All those satellites and antennas you see on top of buildings, they are funded by the private sector. So the government is now sitting pretty collecting bandwidth money,” Debnath Guharoy of Roy Morgan market research said. “They are issuing licences worth millions of dollars which costs them nothing, really. I don’t think the black market is going away.”
Capitalizing on Indonesian technophiles who just cannot wait until August, Vicky jacked up the PlayBook’s retail price to 9.75 million rupiah (US$975) compared with US$699 for the most expensive version in the US, but come August, PlayBooks will be selling at slashed prices alongside cut-rate smartphones, netbooks and cameras. Affluent Indonesians are already lapping up cheap hand-held tablets.
The country’s latest sex scandal involved a conservative Muslim lawmaker who was busted watching pornography on his Samsung Galaxy tablet in parliament.
Suhanda Wijaya, of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it was impossible to control shipments of illegal products into a huge country of 17,000 islands.
“Indonesia is very open because it is an archipelago. We can only really monitor five major gateways,” he said.
On top of evading the 10 percent luxury tax, suppliers and vendors can also ignore the 5 percent sales tax by trading solely in cash, making for significantly cheaper products.
“Smuggling goods into the country hurts the industry because it makes it very difficult for companies that want to do the right thing to compete with cheaper products,” Wijaya said.
It can be impossible to tell the difference between a smuggled product and an authorized one. The difference is only in the warranty card. An authorized product will have a manufacturer’s warranty, while a smuggled one will have a distributor’s warranty.
RIM Southeast Asia managing director Gregory Wade said the Canadian company is trying to educate consumers about the benefits of buying legitimate products.
“We’ve run a number of campaigns wrapped around the concept ‘peace of mind’ and the values and benefits of purchasing authorized products. We continue to support and invest very heavily into that,” he said.