Updated on Sept. 24 at 3:38pm EST to include more details and quotes on the BlackBerry Passport.
The Waterloo, Ont.-based handset maker held three launch events for the Passport in Toronto, London, and Dubai today, with CEO John Chen attending the event in Toronto to talk about how the phone will appeal to enterprise and business users, rather than consumers. The phone is set to land in the U.S. and 30 other countries before the end of 2014, Chen said.
With a 4.5-inch display, housed within a distinctive square-shaped screen, the width of the BlackBerry Passport is supposed to allow business users to be able to read and edit documents more easily. The phablet-sized phone also features a full QWERTY keyboard with physical keys, as well as a 3450 MAh battery, touted as being able to last up to 30 hours on a single charge.
Running the newly updated BlackBerry OS 10.3, the phone also features a 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor for more fluid multitasking, three GB of RAM, and 32 GB of internal memory. The camera is also set at 13 megapixels, an improvement over any of BlackBerry’s previous smartphones.
Unlocked, the Passport will cost about $699 in Canada – about $100 more than the U.S. price that Chen announced earlier this week. On stage, he said he actually wasn’t sure why the phone costs more here in BlackBerry’s country of origin. However, he did say the company is trying to cement itself as a Canadian business – one reason why it brought hockey legend Wayne Gretzky on-stage to talk up the brand.
“We’re determined to win our whole country back, so this is one of our first moves to do that,” he said.
While a lot of the details surrounding the BlackBerry Passport had already gone public ahead of today’s launch event, BlackBerry is determined to show it’s making gains in the smartphone market, though the embattled company has been forced to concede more and more ground each year in terms of market share and user adoption.
That doesn’t mean BlackBerry is trying to land wins in the consumer market, where Apple and Samsung dominate the competition – but it is trying to win back enterprise users who want data security and productivity bundled in with their mobile devices.
However, one of the questions that remain is whether BlackBerry’s strategy of trying to reach business users will pan out, given many business users are now bringing their consumer devices into the workplace.
BlackBerry’s answer to that comes in the form of BlackBerry Blend, a new feature that will allow users to share documents between devices. It also gives them access to their personal and work emails, BBM messages, text messages, and calendars, and it is compatible not only with BlackBerry devices, but with Macs, iPads, PCs and Android tablets. During today’s event, the company announced it would also be available starting today, alongside the Passport.
“I think this is perfect … This allows the consumer [and] professionals the choice when they go into the IT shop,” Chen said, in a brief interview with ITBusiness.ca after the event. “This fully supports [bring-your-own device] or corporate-issued devices. Our software is agnostic, with so many different operating environments. I think this is a really good first step towards being in that world.”
BlackBerry is also hoping the Passport will appeal to users in industries like healthcare, finance, utilities, and construction. In a brief demonstration on-stage, the company showed how Claron Technology Inc., a company that provides medical image processing solutions, has built Passport-friendly apps for doctors. For example, doctors would be able to use the Passport to access electronic medical records, or to show MRI scans and ultrasounds to their patients.
However, if BlackBerry fans were hoping for news of the BlackBerry Classic today, a yet-to-be released phone with a more traditional size and shape, they were disappointed. Chen only pulled out the phone from his jacket pocket for a quick reveal at the end of the launch event, adding the Classic will come out by the end of the year.
While Chen didn’t talk too much about BlackBerry’s road map or strategy, he did say BlackBerry Messenger and QNX Software will eventually play a role in the company’s shift towards the enterprise. He also added he feels the company is moving forward, with its rounds of layoffs now over and “modest” hiring efforts to get underway soon.
The company is set to release its second-quarter financial earnings on Friday.