Is BlackBerry's Passport smartphone a triumph for keyboard loyalists? Or BlackBerry's last hurrah in hardware?
Apple's Next Chapter: 10 Key Issues
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Most days, if BlackBerry references appear in the news, they're part of some cautionary tale about the perils that befall companies that don't innovate. The company hoped to inspire different sentiments this week with the release of its Passport smartphone. Aimed at productivity-minded professionals, the device includes a physical QWERTY keyboard and a unique, square-shaped screen -- both features that BlackBerry CEO John Chen said will help enterprise users get more done.
With the launch last year of its Z10 touchscreen smartphone, the company tried and failed to blend mainstream features with its business-oriented strengths. The Passport reverses this course, with enterprise use informing almost all aspects of its design.
The 4.5-inch screen allows websites and documents to render more horizontal content; spreadsheets, for example, will display more columns on the Passport than on most other smartphones. With 1,440-by-1,440-pixel resolution, the screen boasts an impressive 453 ppi, as well as protection from Corning's Gorilla Glass 3.
The device is about the same size as a physical passport. It weighs 6.9 ounces and includes 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor, and the largest battery of any smartphone currently available. The battery isn't removable, which is a departure from traditional BlackBerry models, but the company says the Passport will handle up to 30 hours of mixed use between charges.
Available for $599 unlocked via BlackBerry's website and $250 through carriers with a two-year contract, the Passport includes several software features designed for enterprise use. It runs the BlackBerry 10.3 OS, which will come to compatible smartphones at a later date. The OS offers tools such as Blend, which allows users to share content and messages between a smartphone and a PC or tablet, and BlackBerry Assistant, the company's answer to Siri, Cortana, and Google Now.
But is BlackBerry poised for a comeback? Here are four big challenges the company will have to overcome.
1. The user interface might be divisive, even for the Passport's intended users.
The Passport's physical keyboard spans only three rows and doesn't include all the keys that longtime BlackBerry users might expect. It offers only letters, a space bar, a return key, and a delete key. Numbers and punctuation characters are accessed via soft keys that appear at the bottom of the Passport's screen, just above the physical keyboard.
BlackBerry claims this setup allows for quicker and more accurate typing, but
Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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