Blackberry looks to convince professionals to ‘work wide’ with new handset marketing

Blackberry has unveiled a new unique-looking smartphone, the Blackberry Passport, that it hopes will win over the hearts of the business market as it continues its strategy of focusing on the enterprise space.

Video: Blackberry Passport video ad

The Blackberry Passport, so-called because it carries roughly the same dimensions as the average passport, features a square screen and a keyboard that also doubles up as a trackpad. It will retail from £529 in the UK.

At a launch event for the device in Toronto, Canada today (24 September), Blackberry demonstrated how the features of the phone and the latest BlackBerry operating system have been designed for the mobile professional.

The company paid particular focus to the BlackBerry Assistant personal assistant software, the device’s battery life, a partnership with the Amazon Appstore meaning users will have access to Android apps as well as the more productivity focused apps on BlackBerry World and BlackBerry Blend: the ability to cast messaging and content from a BlackBerry smartphone to any computer or tablet.

A marketing push to couple the launch features the tagline “work wide”, demonstrating both the width of the screen and the way the phone enables professions to do more things than previous devices.

John Chen, Blackberry executive chairman and CEO, says: “As we set out to design Blackberry Passport, we were guided by a simple yet challenging idea – to set aside the limitations of traditional design and to instead simply build a device that fundamentally changes the way business professionals get work done on their smartphone.

“The Blackberry Passport was created to drive productivity and to break through the sea of rectangular-screen, all-touch devices.”

The Blackberry Passport markets a “long overdue” update to the company’s devices portfolio and reinforces its enterprise credentials, but CCS Insight’s chief of research Ben Wood is unsure whether it will grow the brand’s appeal beyond the “BlackBerry faithful”.

He adds: “This is definitely a Marmite product – based on our experience so far people either love the design or are a little perplexed by the size and shape. One thing is certain – it’s a distinctive product that will definitely stand out from the monotonous stream of similar looking touchscreen smartphones that currently characterise the market.”

Passport’s journey ahead

The launch of the Passport marks the latest charge in Blackberry’s turnaround strategy. After successive quarters of financial losses and plunging market share, the company appointed John Chen in November last year to lead its battle for survival.

Chen has taken the company “back to its heritage and roots”, focusing on delivering services and hardware for enterprise customers.

In June the company posted a surprise $23m (£14m) profit for the three months to March, up from the £84m loss reported a year earlier.

But despite marking a brief success financially, the company still trails rivals in terms of market share. BlackBerry marked just a 0.9 per cent share of global smartphone sales in the three months to June, according to Kantar Worldpanel. In the UK Blackberry also had just a 0.9 per cent share of the smartphones sold in the period.