Passport to where?

BlackBerry Executive Chairman and CEO John Chen holds the company’s new Passport phone aloft at the launch event on Wednesday last week. Photo courtesy BlackBerry.
BlackBerry Executive Chairman and CEO John Chen holds the company’s new Passport phone aloft at the launch event on Wednesday last week. Photo courtesy BlackBerry.

In the week of Bendgate, with flocks of pigeons flocking with diarrheal enthusiasm over Apple’s launch of the iPhone 6 Plus, it was hard to imagine that another technology company might be able to rival the misfortunes of the Cupertino company and its allegedly overly flexible new phone.

But one only needed to look north to Toronto to find the once erstwhile and market-leading BlackBerry offering up a new smartphone to skies thick and dark with corbeaux with their bladders full.

If there’s anything worse than bad press, it’s got to be no press, or so little of it hardly matters. Even worse than that is the prospect of marginal market share for not just a new product, but one that represents BlackBerry’s last, best hope for a presence in the pockets of business users.

At a cozy event on September 24 in Waterloo, Ontario and in the company of famed hockey player Wayne Gretzky, BlackBerry CEO John Chen introduced the new Passport device, a squat looking little smartphone with a design influence that seems based on a…passport.

If you’re looking for style, seek out the BB Porsche Design P’9983, a smartphone with far more impressive design pedigree, but BlackBerry is positioning the Passport as the device that its dedicated users will want to migrate to.

It’s pretty ham-handed positioning though, the P’9983 will be available through Harrods at the Porsche Design in-store shop for £1,400.

The company is playing a careful and deliberate marketing game here, announcing on its home turf and claiming Canadian carrier Telus as its first official partner with accompanying discounts for the first weeks of sale.

AT&T has been announced as its official US carrier, with 30 selected territories to come soon (T&T isn’t one), though the phone will apparently be widely available unlocked at a US price of $599.

That’s already proven to be a key factor in the phone’s appeal to its audience. Within hours of its release, BlackBerry was blogging about the 200,000 orders for the device on Amazon that had skyrocketed the Passport to the top spot among smartphones on the company’s US store.

For the average user, the Passport hits some modern notes as well as some old favorites. The BlackBerry keyboard is back, for one thing, along with a hefty 3,450 mAh capacity battery that’s rated for 30 hours of average use.

The new keyboard, which is generating mixed feelings among the BB faithful, also functions as a trackpad with a swipe across its surface.

As with other recent BlackBerry models, this device runs some Android software, which users can access through the preloaded Amazon Appstore app.

The phone’s specifications are a distinctly average; Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.2 GHZ quad-core processor, 3MB RAM, 32GB storage and a 13MP camera.

Earning a place in the pockets and clasps of today’s executives will be a challenge for the hefty phone, which weighs in at heavyweight class at 5.03 inches tall, 3.55 inches wide, and 0.37 inches thick. It also bends the scales at 6.91 ounces.

BlackBerry is putting it to their users that they really need a square tank to be efficient, and they may be the only smartphone maker with a business base dedicated enough to survive the asking.

With a square screen, this isn’t a device for looking at movies or YouTube videos, it’s dedicated to creating an old-school workspace with a distinctly modern pixel density of 453 pixels per inch on a 4.5 inch screen. Words, spreadsheets and presentations will be crisp and sharp.

From the perspective of BlackBerry’s recent smartphone history, the Passport is actually a strong entry in the market, but the market has also generally moved on to faster, smaller, sleeker devices with far richer software ecosystems.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. 

Good hardware is the price of entry into this competition for smartphone customers, software is where they are won over and BlackBerry hasn’t done a thing worth noting on that front.