Qantas ditches BlackBerry for iPhone - will more businesses follow suit?

Latest blow for BlackBerry in the wake of half-billion first-quarter loss

In another blow to Research in Motion, Qantas will reportedly ditch its fleet of 1300 BlackBerrry smartphones for iPhones.

"There has been strong demand from Qantas employees for the iPhone, with a large majority of respondents to a recent survey indicating that this is their preferred smartphone option," the airlines CIO Paul Jones told The Australian.

According to Telsyte senior analyst Rodney Gedda, increasing business features and the availability of enterprise mobile device management solutions means platforms like iOS and Android, which dominate the consumer market, are increasingly attractive for businesses looking to upgrade their smartphone fleet.

"What's happening is more businesses are allowing people to bring their own device — as many as around 50 per cent of businesses are allowing people to bring their own device so that's one factor — and obviously smartphones in the consumer space like the iPhone and Android handsets are more prevalent than BlackBerry consumer devices," Gedda said.

"The other factor is there are more enterprise features coming to these types of devices. So from the top down if an IT manager or CEO wanted to deploy iPads or iPhones or android handsets throughout the enterprise there are more options available for managing it as you would a BlackBerry."

In June, RIM announced a first quarter loss of US$518 million. Sales had dropped from $4.9 billion in the first quarter of 2011 to $2.8 billion. CEO Thorsten Heins announced that the company would shed 5000 jobs.

"As some pundits write RIM's obituary, the company's global subscriber base continues to grow, to more than 78 million people in 175 countries," Heins wrote in a 3 July op-ed for the <i>Globe & Mail</i>

"In many of those countries - some of the fastest growing markets in the world - RIM is the top smart-phone; and in some, RIM devices account for the top three spots. We have relationships with 650 carriers around the globe; RIM's reliability and security make it the first choice for countless government agencies and are part of the reason more than 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies deploy BlackBerry in their enterprises."

However in an interview with Techworld Australia's sister publication CIO, Heins admitted that "market share overall is declining".

"The reason is the growth is in touch," Heins said. "QWERTY is pretty stable; it's a stable segment, growing slowly. The growth is in the full touch device business, and that's where we will see growth. There is a loyal segment of BlackBerry users in the U.S. I think you will see the shrinkage of the BlackBerry market come to a halt. I think we've bottomed out on this one. Not that I'm satisfied with it, okay? That's why I'm building BlackBerry 10 to fight that back."

While BlackBerry has maintained its traditional support device management and security and retains a strong foothold, the options are increasing for getting BlackBerry-like functionality on consumer devices such as the iPhone.

"For years BlackBerry's strategy has really been in the business space and by its own admission it hasn't gone after the consumer market much," Gedda said.

"In contrast the iPhone and android handsets were very much consumer oriented. What happened in the process, though, is there was a perfect storm of rich media functionality on the device so the ability to do more than just make phone calls.

"So there's music and videos and apps and combine that with consumer data allowances from 3G networks you've got yourself a perfect storm of basically a portable computer, not just a phone. BlackBerry missed that wave, even though it's now got its App World app store it doesn't really have a flagship consumer device in the same vein as the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S III."

"Blackberry will continue, it just needs to become relevant in the sense that it needs to have a buzz created around its devices and ecosystem," Gedda said.

"BlackBerry 10 is coming out next year so it needs to be front and centre of businesses with a flagship device — that's what's a bit lacking at the moment. When BlackBerry 10 comes out we'll see — it could be a game changer. What concerns a few people is it's not going to be released until next calendar year, so by then a new iPhone will be out and a new version of Android will be out in January."

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