BlackBerry's Hardware Hail Mary: 4 Challenges - InformationWeek
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BlackBerry's Hardware Hail Mary: 4 Challenges

Is BlackBerry's Passport smartphone a triumph for keyboard loyalists? Or BlackBerry's last hurrah in hardware?

 Apple's Next Chapter: 10 Key Issues
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

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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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Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/25/2014 | 2:54:48 PM
Re: Blackberry
I don't think BB is in the Wow business anymore. Mobile users have been Wowed into submission by Apple, Google, and Samsung. 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/25/2014 | 2:43:45 PM
Re: Blackberry
What could BB have done to actually wow people? The apps issue is big. Keyboard love is not enough.
Desperado2012
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Desperado2012,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/25/2014 | 1:38:20 PM
Re:Blackberry
Breaking news.. Blackberry to release a new and never before seen Square Pager! It's cutting edge because unlike all other pagers from the 80s and early 90s it has an enormous square screen and it's so big it cannot fit into your front pocket or back pocket but the upside is that it's still square so of course everyone must love it . In other news.. Blackberry to release an entire new line of square mobile devices even though none of them can fit in your pockets. One in particular is a new rotary phone next with that is also square! Attention blackberry executives... Fire your entire engineering crew and maybe you can salvage this technological debacle your faced with.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/25/2014 | 11:37:03 AM
Re: Blackberry
Based on Chen's quote, we'll stop making hardware if our hardware isn't making money, I'd say yes this is a last-ditch effort. BlackBerry doesn't have any options left so they tried to build the ultimate enterprise smartphone. For the reasons Michael lays out here, an "Enterprise Phone" is not enough anymore. Sure, there are still some white-collar pros who just want a work phone and are ok with carrying two phones, and may like the Passport. But that demographic is shrinking and BlackBerry won't be able to make enough money from them. Hail Mary is a fitting description.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
9/25/2014 | 10:34:05 AM
Re: Blackberry
We debated removing BB completely from this year's end user computing survey (going on now @ http://informationweek.2015consumerization.sgizmo.com/s3/ for anyone interested).  We didn't, but it was a tough call. I think BB had to do something really groundbreaking and whiz-bang to have a shot at mattering again. Think wireless charging, or a keyboard that projects from the device onto a flat surface, or an included wearable ... SOMETHING to get people to sit up and take notice. 

This is nice for people who love their physical keyboards, but nice isn't enough.
LenG942
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LenG942,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/25/2014 | 9:20:56 AM
Blackberry
I am a typical Blackberry user.  I am a business professional who uses their BB at work and after work (whenever that is).  I love the physical keyboard.  I don't play games or watch movies on my BB.  I work on it seven days a week, often 24 hours a day.  I love my BB and will be loyal to it as long as they are available. 
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