The new Blackberry Passport was released September 24, 2014 and Blackberry CEO John Chen announced that it sold out in 6 hours on Blackberry’s website and within 10 hours on Amazon.com. The phone sells at $599 in the U.S. and $699 in Canada (Canadian dollars).
Blackberry has recently had a large downturn in profitability, but Chen’s strategy since becoming CEO has been to cost cuts and concentrate the company’s smartphone efforts on business professionals. The response to the Passport shows that Blackberry is reaching its target market. The company is still in the red, but now expects a smaller deficit than previously predicted. Chen has stated the company should be profitable again in 2015.
Now, let’s get down to the features of Passport that make it unique.
The phone is set apart right away by its size and dimensions. Blackberry believes that a square screen will be of more use to business professionals, so they can see web pages, maps, and charts on the screen without having to scroll. The Passport’s name comes from the fact that it was designed to be the size of a US passport.
The phone is thick as well. Part of that thickness is from a battery that can remain charged for up to 30 hours. Those who use their smartphones a lot know that they frequently lose battery charge and have to be plugged in during the day. Not having to charge the phone every day may appeal to those heavy users.
A feature appreciated by almost all reviewers is the keyboard. Blackberry is known for having a physical keyboard. Certain users really find value in having physical keys over using a touchscreen keyboard. Blackberry has added some touch features to their physical keyboard which are very helpful for navigation. The keys on the Passport can be used like a cursor to scroll across the screen. For example, a user can swipe backward on the keys to erase a word just typed, or select a suggested word while typing, by swiping over the keys toward the screen.
For those concerned about the limited number of apps for Blackberry, the Passport comes with the Blackberry Store and the Amazon App Store. A built-in Android emulator lets users run most Android apps. Some may work better than others on the Passport.
One reviewer of the Passport, on CNet, pointed out that the square shape makes one-handed use difficult. Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, stated that the Passport would have to sell millions to compete with Android and Apple.
It is clear that Blackberry put a lot of thought into the design of the phone and the company seems to know its target market well. Time will tell if the Passport puts Blackberry back in the smartphone game.