BlackBerry Passport UK targets business users and sells well

BlackBerry Passport declared a success for the company following renewed focus

The BlackBerry Passport has been branded a success for the company by CEO John Chen, who branded it the firm's new flagship handset after selling better than the company had predicted.

In an interview with Reuters, Chen said: “I’m happy in the receptivity of the design. I’m happy that this product is a successful product, but we did not make that many of them, so it is in limited supply almost everywhere.”

Contemplating what the success of the smartphone could mean for the company long-term, he continued: “We will survive as a company and now I am rather confident.

“We’re managing the supply chain, we are managing inventories, we are managing cash, and we have expenses now at a number that is very manageable. BlackBerry has survived; now we have to start looking at growth.”

The company has also revealed plans to launch a mobile diagnostic tool for the handset in early 2015, which will allow doctors to access cancer patient data securely.

The venture was developed with NantHealth, with whom BlackBerry started collaborating in April.

The tool is thought to be part of BlackBerry’s renewed efforts to court enterprise customers back from rival handsets from Apple and Android, offering more mobile security software and developing more services aimed directly at business users.

John Chen revealed the firm has received 200,000 pre-orders for its forthcoming Passport handset since its official launch.

The BlackBerry Passport is already on general release in the UK. It's available to buy through the firm's website, via Selfridges (£529 SIM-free) and Carphone Warehouse starting at £30.50 a month. Vodafone's enterprise arm also plans to offer the handset.

The much-hyped device was unveiled at the Canadian phone maker's worldwide launch event in Toronto. 

The event was presided over by BlackBerry CEO John Chen, and marked the official introduction of the device whose large square shaped looks, coupled with its 4.5in screen and physical QWERTY keyboard, have turned heads in the tech world since news of the Passport first broke in July. 

During the event, Chen described the device as "iconic", while the Passport's launch was repeatedly billed as marking the big "Canadian comeback" of BlackBerry.

"We're determined to win our home country back. This is one of our first moves to do that," he said.

The firm has been through the wringer in recent years, having seen its mobile market share eaten up by the likes of Samsung and Apple, and its finances have suffered as a result.

During the event, Chen hinted that the company's past troubles are now behind it, ahead of its next set of financial results being released later this week.

"I've been here 10 months and we recruited a team, inside and outside the company, and we laid out quickly a few things: a financial strategy, a technical strategy...and a distribution strategy," he said.

"You will see the company making good progress in repairing all balance sheet items..."

Getting back to the Passport, he said the device is "squarely aimed "at the 30 per cent of smartphone users who choose their devices based on the productivity benefits they have to offer.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, he also explained the inspiration behind its design was the humble passport.  

"A lot of people when they first see this device... usually people look at it and say it looks a little different than expected. So I immediately pull out the passport and they realise it's the same size," said Chen. 

"It's a size that can fit in a gentleman's pocket... and a lady's purse."

The company also used the event to treat attendees to a thorough walk through of some of the standout features of Blackberry 10.3, the operating system featured on the BlackBerry Passport. 

These include BlackBerry Assistant, the firm's take on the virtual assistant offerings its rivals Apple, Google, and Microsoft offer, and it’s Natural Sound Technology, which is designed to adjust call volumes based on the environment the user is in.

The device costs $599 to buy SIM-free in the US.

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Chen told the publication the company has deliberately kept the cost of it low to drive up interest in the BlackBerry Passport, before admitting it should realistically set users back around $700 when they buy it. "I figure that to try to get the market interested, we’re going to start a little lower than that."

In late November, it was revealed that BlackBerry would be offering iPhone users up to $550 (up to $400 for the iPhone and an additional $150) for switching to the Passport in the US. The offer began from 1 December and will reportedly last until 13 February.

Specs

The experimental design comes as BlackBerry continues to seek a form factor to pair its well-designed physical keyboards with a large screen. Current generation devices, such as the Q10 and Q5, have screens which are limited to 3ins in size and while the Z10 has a 4in+ display, it is touch-only.

Think of the BlackBerry Passport as a phablet with a physical Qwerty keyboard.

So what can we expect in terms of specifications?

Display

The Passport is set to include a 4.5in screen with a 1440 x 1440 resolution. This helps to give it a mammoth pixel density of 453ppi. To put this in context, it should be sharper than existing flagship devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 (432ppi) and the Apple iPhone 5s (326ppi).

It also sports Gorilla Glass to offer users better protection.

The most interesting feature is the square screen - which gives the device its unique look. This means users will no longer have to switch between portrait and landscape modes. This is crucial when you take into account the physical keyboard.

BlackBerry claims the Passport's screen size will make it ideal for looking at everything from schematics to x-rays, word documents and spreadsheets. Of course it's also going to make the handset ideal for web-browsing.


To this end, the company claims users will be able to fit 60 characters on each line they write on the device, compared to the 30 offered on competing devices.

Touch-enabled keyboard

BlackBerry has cut down the keyboard to three rows. The physical keys are for letters input alone. Punctuation, numbers and even the ALT key have been given the chop and will appear on-screen depending on the context. It will be interesting to see how this works in practice.

The keyboard is touch-enabled too, so users will be able to ‘flick up’ on the keys and mimic predictive typing introduced on the touch-screen Z10.

The physical keyboard should make typing out documents more precise, claims BlackBerry, and can reduce typos by around 74 per cent.

And - while competing devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 - will have much of their screen obscured by an onscreen keyboard, Passport users won't.


Performance

The Passport will run the BB 10.3 operating system. It will be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM, specifications which are comparable to phablets in Samsung's Galaxy Note range.

Internal memory is shaping up to be 32GB with space to expand this with a micro SD card slot (up to 64GB). 

Battery life

The Passport packs a large 3450mAh battery life, and BlackBerry is touting a battery life of around 30 hours for power users that browse the web, take calls and access multimedia content using the device. 

Whilst testing out a pre-production device, CrackBerry claimed the handset retained 15 per cent battery life after 16 hours of usage.

Early impressions

So far CrackBerry has been the only publication to get extended time with the Passport. Although it looks like it could take users a while to get used to the unique design and keyboard, conclusions have been positive.

“It fits in dress shirt pockets and you can hold it with one hand. You just need two hands to use it. The battery lasts forever and the screen is a breath of fresh air for the 'cramped' Q10 users,” CrackBerry noted.

“The phone (if we can call it that) is meant for executives and serious businessmen who will now do more on their BlackBerry smartphones.”

With BlackBerry managing to retain customers in the enterprise market, the release of a truly big screen device is likely to be welcomed by those who still crave a physical keyboard. 

Apps

Blackberry has confirmed that Passport and BlackBerry 10.3 users will have access to software offered by the Amazon App Store, to broaden the range of services at their fingertips. 

The company claims this means users should have access to "hundreds of thousands" of additional apps, including consumer offerings such as Minecraft, Pinterest and Cut The Rope 2. 

Meanwhile, they'll also be given the chance to download one free, paid-for app from the Amazon App Store every day for free.

This will be in addition to those offered through the BlackBerry World app store. 

This article was first published on 08/07/14 and has been updated multiple times (most recently on 26/09/14) to reflect new information that has become available since its original publication. 

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