Flagship Australian airline Qantas said Thursday it was ditching BlackBerry for Apple's iPhone and rolling out in-flight iPad entertainment streaming, dealing a blow to the US firm's rivals.
Qantas said it was switching 1,300 employee phones from Canada-based Research in Motion's BlackBerry to the popular Apple device after a "large majority" of workers expressed a preference for the iPhone.
"Transition from the BlackBerry to the iPhone is part of Qantas' broader mobility strategy and, once complete, will result in significant cost savings," a Qantas spokeswoman told AFP.
Analysts said it was a fatal blow for RIM and would likely trigger "significantly more defections" from the outdated BlackBerry maker, which is struggling to remain relevant against its fast-evolving rivals.
"It's very significant on the level of credibility and their reputation," said telecoms analyst Paul Budde, referring to RIM, which now holds just 0.1 percent of Australia's smartphone market.
"Seeing large blue-chip companies such as Qantas dumping BlackBerry will only confirm to others who are on BlackBerry that they're a dead-end street."
The Qantas mobile switch is part of a wider push onto the Apple platform, which will also see the airline's pilots given iPads to replace paper charts, flight plans and manuals, mirroring moves by US carriers.
Qantas is also rolling out live iPad streaming of in-flight entertainment on its domestic Boeing 767 fleet following a successful trial of the "QStreaming" technology, developed with Panasonic.
Passengers will be provided with iPads to access the in-flight system that are locked to the Qantas network, but the airline is working on making QStreaming available to passengers' own devices down the track.
American Airlines has launched a similar programme with Samsung's Galaxy tablet for first and business class domestic passengers, but content is pre-loaded rather than streamed direct.
Replacing bulky seat-back entertainment systems and paper manuals with tablets is expected to deliver important energy efficiencies -- a key target for airlines as fuel prices skyrocket and governments move to reduce pollution.
Budde said the Qantas shift affirmed Apple's foothold in the sector at the expense of smaller players such as Nokia and RIM.
"The world has moved on, it's now all around the iPhone and the Android platforms," he said.
"I think unfortunately for BlackBerry they have missed the boat. They are too late, there is no way back for them any more."
Google's Android platform leads smartphone sales in Australia, accounting for 57 percent to Apple's 30.5 percent in the first quarter of 2012, according to global research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.
RIM has seen its global market share halve from 13.6 to 6.4 percent in the past year and said last month it would lay off 5,000 staff as it reported a $518 million loss.
Its Australian office said BlackBerry remained committed to the corporate sector and was "one of the most reliable and cost-effective solutions for mobile enterprise".
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