NEWS

BlackBerry Passport: Enterprise users will be the real test

09/24/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 11/23/2014 05:59 EST

BlackBerry released its new Passport phone today, a 4.5-inch keyboard smartphone aimed at corporate users.

John Chen, charged with turning around Waterloo, Ont.-based BlackBerry, has said the company’s future rests on rebuilding its relations with the enterprise market, long a core of its business.

The Passport is “designed from the ground up for the working professional in mind,” the company says in a blog post.

Chen told the crowd at the Toronto launch on Wednesday that the company's restructuring process is over and the company is focusing on growth. 

The new smartphone's hefty design — the size of a passport, or perhaps a suit pocket — has a screen that will show 60 characters across. That means spreadsheets, medical charts and other enterprise-friendly information will be readable.

The QWERTY layout of the keyboard will be a comfortable holdover from early BlackBerry designs.

There also could be details released today about BlackBerry Blend, a service that lets users connect to BlackBerry phones from desktops, laptops or tablets, as well as the Classic Q20 phone.

This summer, Chen said BlackBerry’s core restructuring was over. The job cuts are finished and the company is back on a growth footing, he said.

Chen, known for turning around Sybase in the 1990s, has been at the job since last November.

Capturing fans 

BlackBerry's chief has made the manufacturing and supply chain more efficient and raised cash via the sale of the company's extensive real estate holdings.

But none of that counts unless he can create a portfolio of hardware and services that appeals to professional customers, and then start turning a profit.

Chen told the Wall Street Journal the Passport will go on sale in the United States at a no-contract price of $599 US, comparable with the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S5.

The famed BlackBerry security remains an appealing selling point — it's hard to hack.

But equally important will be a raft of services to be released this fall to support the new phones.  

A BlackBerry Enterprise Server 12 update is planned for November and is expected to introduce cloud storage before year-end. Also on the menu are apps designed for business use.

BlackBerry Passport's performance will be a test of Chen's strategy as well as an indication of the potential for the company as a whole.

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