Skip to main content

Customers try out the iPhone 4S at the Apple retail store in San Francisco, Nov. 17, 2011.Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Research In Motion Ltd.'s smartphone struggles have spread to home turf. Last year, new data show, shipments of Apple Inc. 's iPhone outpaced BlackBerrys in the Canadian market .

The Waterloo, Ont.-based company shipped 2.08 million BlackBerrys, compared with Apple's 2.85 million iPhones, in the Canadian market in 2011, according to research firm IDC. RIM has, for the first time, lost its top spot in the market where the BlackBerry was born.

"The trend shows that iPhone popularity has overtaken RIM in Canada," said Mike Abramsky, an analyst with RBC Dominion Securities Inc.

"While there are a large number of BlackBerry fans in Canada, RIM has not been able to tap into the new wave of smartphone buyers looking for apps, browsing, and a slick touch screen."

RIM, which reports fourth-quarter earnings next week that are expected to be grim, is in the middle of a punishing transition. It is moving from its aging BlackBerry software to a new mobile platform, due later this year, called BlackBerry 10, which will run across its all of its smartphones and tablets.

At the same time, the company's latest devices – which run BlackBerry 7 software – have failed to sell well against the iPhone and other high-end smartphones running Google Inc.'s Android software, such as those by Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.

RIM's strategy in emerging markets, on the other hand, has been hugely successful: BlackBerry shipments in Africa grew 741 per cent year-over-year to the third-quarter of 2011, according to estimates by research firm Canalys.

But it is RIM's dismal performance in the United States that has largely coloured popular perceptions of the company, especially as large government agencies and U.S.-headquartered companies begin supplementing their arsenals of BlackBerrys with iPhones and Android devices. As well, RIM bungled the launch of its PlayBook tablet, which sold poorly amid criticism about missing features.

This new milestone of losing favour with Canadian buyers, while not surprising given the success of the iPhone and the enormous growth of Android, is more bad optics.

At the same time, however, it's not clear that more Canadians are now using iPhones than BlackBerrys, because IDC's data reflect how many devices the manufacturers send to wireless carriers and retail stores.

Last month, another research firm, ComScore, released figures showing that RIM still had a narrow lead over Apple in the Canadian market. It said RIM had 32.6 per cent of the smartphone market compared with Apple's 31.2 per cent in the three months ending in December, 2011.

In the first three months of 2011, according to ComScore, RIM had 42.1 per cent of the Canadian smartphone market.