Still, many of Canada’s banks and the federal government remain loyal to RIM devices. Royal Bank of Canada, the country’s largest bank, only issues BlackBerrys, said Katherine Gay, a spokeswoman for the Toronto-based bank. Bank of Nova Scotia and Bank of Montreal do the same. Toronto-Dominion Bank, which issues BlackBerrys to its staff, is assessing the policy and allows employees to use personal Apple and Android devices for corporate e-mail, said Dave Codack, head of employee technology.
BlackBerry still has an edge over the iPhone in some emerging markets. In the Middle East and Africa, RIM shipped 8.3 million handsets to Apple’s 2.5 million iPhones last year. In Saudi Arabia, teenagers have embraced RIM because they can flirt using its free BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging, avoiding local religious police who restrict interaction between unmarried men and women.
In Latin America, RIM outsells Apple by an even larger margin, with 10.6 million BlackBerrys shipped versus 2.1 million iPhones in 2011, according to IDC. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has dubbed his BlackBerry and Twitter account his “secret weapon.”
For Venezuelans, a no-frills BlackBerry Curve is more affordable than the iPhone because Latin American carriers don’t typically subsidize the cost of devices in exchange for multiyear contracts the way North American operators do. That price advantage has helped RIM expand its base of 75 million subscribers worldwide.
Local concerns about Canada’s technology sector grew after Nortel Networks Corp., once North America’s largest phone- equipment maker, filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Nortel, which helped incubate dozens of startups in its heyday, was broken up and its businesses and patents sold to rivals including Ericsson AB and Apple.
That collapse put more pressure on RIM, which had already overtaken Nortel to become Canada’s biggest technology company, to lead the industry’s expansion in the country.
Pitched to Carriers
RIM’s early growth was due in part to the way former co-CEO Jim Balsillie persuasively pitched the BlackBerry to wireless carriers, said Shaw Wu, an analyst with Sterne Agee & Leach Inc. As consumers increasingly choose smartphones for their range of apps, and more companies allow employees to bring their own devices to work and fewer issue BlackBerrys, RIM risks being left behind by the iPhone, Wu said.
“RIM in the past did really well as carriers pushed the product and that’s what sold,” said Wu, who is based in San Francisco and rates RIM the equivalent of a hold. “Now you get the opposite, it’s not what the carriers push but what customers want and customers are choosing iPhones -- even in Canada.”