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BlackBerry goes for qwerty keyboard, again, in Passport smartphone

Matt Hamblen | Sept. 25, 2014
Square-shaped display, quad-core processor, big battery, and new voice assistant might attract older BlackBerry users who still want a physical keyboard.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry continues to struggle in selling new smartphones, and its total market share recently slipped to less than 1%. The greater focus, instead, at BlackBerry is on research and software products for enterprises, especially for managing mobile devices that run a variety of operating systems across a work force. There were 35,000 commercial and test BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 servers deployed globally, BlackBerry said in June, with updated numbers expected following Friday's earnings report.

Passport's qwerty keyboard could be the nudge that older BlackBerry users need to get them to buy a new device, analysts said, but they doubted young professionals would respond much at all.

"The advantage of a physical keyboard is that you can blind type, which means you can keep your eyes where they are supposed to be and with quick glances can still get that email or text sent out," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group. "The Passport will be a great tool for those that are still wedded to a keyboard and want a more cutting edge phone."

Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research, added, "Qwerty keyboards are highly underrated. While they seem old school, they're very useful. Millennials might like the device because it could be perceived as retro cool, but millennials per se are not the target."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, tried to further level expectations. "Passport is aimed squarely at enterprise users and not the consumer market," Gold said. "Its unique form factor is optimized for document creation and editing, so BlackBerry is targeting really heavy Office-type users and its core messaging users. Passport won't sell well in consumer, but could give BlackBerry a boost in its enterprise installed base."

In keeping with the theme of working across platforms, the Passport will run the  BlackBerry 10.3 operating system, which includes new BlackBerry Blend sharing software. With Blend, users can share content and messages from a BlackBerry 10.3 smartphone with desktops running Mac OS X 10.7 and higher and Windows 7 and higher, iPads running iOS 7 and higher and Android tablets running Android 4.4 or higher.

A voice feature called BlackBerry Assistant also has been added to BlackBerry 10.3, allowing users to make queries and leave appointment reminders by voice command or text. Assistant will compete with voice assistants on other platforms, including Apple's Siri, Google Now and Windows Phone's Cortana.

BlackBerry also said Passport will be able to access BlackBerry World apps and Amazon Appstore apps, which are designed for Amazon's variant of Android. While BlackBerry World apps are primarily focused on business professionals, Amazon apps will include popular games.

Features of the Passport hardware include a 4.5-in. square screen with a 1:1 aspect ratio and 1440 x 1440 pixels, or 453 pixels per inch. It also has Corning's stronger Gorilla Glass 3.

 

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