Commentary

BlackBerry Hopes Passport Will Travel Well With Select Target

BlackBerry took the wraps off a new smartphone yesterday — the 4.5-inch diagonally square Passport, which has a keyboard that can also function as a touch pad. The device is admittedly a do-or-die effort to resuscitate hardware sales at the company, whose CEO, John Chen, has pinned its future on “reshaping … to build on its core strengths in areas such as mobile data security and mobile device management,” as a Reuters story published in The Guardianputs it.

“We will make money on the handset — if we don’t, we’ll have to get out,” Chen told the New York Times’ Ian Austen in a recent interview. Austen observes, however, “making the hardware business at BlackBerry simply break even will be a difficult balancing act between cost and price.”

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“Smartphones, like all electronics, are a product for which large-scale manufacturing brings significant savings — and scale is something the much-diminished BlackBerry lacks,” Austen writes. “IDC, a research company, estimates that Apple shipped 32.5 million iPhones during the second quarter of this year, while BlackBerry moved only 1.5 million handsets.”

Reuters points out “the Passport comes to market as the phones of BlackBerry’s rivals converge on a single profile, with tall, rectangular screens and smooth corners. Users can type on the Passport’s keyboard to enter text, or swipe lightly across it to navigate through the phone.”

“Like a muscle car, BlackBerry's Passport is strong, quirky, has a healthy dose of nostalgia and likely a limited audience,” reads the summary of Larry Dignan’s review on ZDNet. “The Passport won't be a bring-your-own-device superstar, but may find a niche in regulated industries.”

Dignan goes on to point out that the Camaro constitutes just 4% of Chevrolet sales to date this year.

“When I was briefed by BlackBerry's marketing folks, the word nostalgia came up as much as terms like work containers, industries and security,” he writes. “The Passport aims to bridge the gap between BlackBerry's base, which prefers keyboards, and users that want more modern technology.”

Such as field workers on an oil rig, apparently, since one doing a health and safety assessment was featured in a “lengthy onstage demonstration at the Passport launch in London,” Daniel Thomas reports in Financial Times. There were also events in Toronto, where Chen was situated, and Dubai.

Apple had U2 at its iPhone 6 launch; BlackBerry had some chaps in suits,” Thomas continues. “But then, that is who BlackBerry wants to buy this phone — and for them Excel is the new rock ’n’ roll.” 

It apparently hits some right notes, as well as some clinkers.

“While the odds remain stacked against BlackBerry ever regaining smartphone supremacy, Passport brings the kind of fresh approach and design that will be vital to get this dark horse off the mat,” Edward C. Baig writes in USA Today. “It is innovative hardware, though I was disappointed in the software and camera — and found BlackBerry's approach to apps confusing.”

BlackBerry also unveiled its new BlackBerry Blend yesterday, an app that “allows you to display content from your BlackBerry, such as conversations, calendars, files, contacts and more, on other screens such as computers and tablets,” according to Donny Halliwell’s post on the official InsideBlackBerry blog.

CNET’s Roger Cheng writes that the feature “shows that the company can play well with others” and “represents a willingness and acknowledgement that its customers use other devices as well.”

That certainly would seem to be the prudent thing to do.

Mashable’s Pete Pachal “slipped the Passport into the hands of a few people who haven't touched a BlackBerry phone in years,” and a video of their reactions indicates that there won’t be long lines winding out the doors and dotcoms of resellers when the device is officially released today.

“I don’t know, I guess I would consider this if I had a job where they made me carry this thing,” is one man’s seemingly representative conclusion.

Then again, the device sold out on ShopBlackBerry.com in six hours yesterday, N4BB (News for BlackBerrys) reports. Its reviewer found the Passport to be “the quintessential smartphone for nonstop productivity, play, and an intuitive, innovative typing experience never-before-seen, until now.”

It’s nice to see that, like diehard Cubs fans, N4BB’s affections remain so ardent after a few losing seasons.

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