TORONTO – BlackBerry’s newest smartphone is expected to take centre stage Wednesday during a global launch event widely seen as the company’s latest attempt to regain its dwindling user base.
The Waterloo, Ont.-based company is expected to officially unveil the BlackBerry Passport – a new smartphone aimed at business users – during simultaneous events in Toronto, London and Dubai.
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Cryptic invites sent to media and industry members in early September provided little information. “Your one-way ticket to the best business trip you’ve ever had,” it said, fueling rumours that BlackBerry will use the opportunity to show off new enterprise solutions.
The event is a big deal for CEO John Chen – who was brought on a year ago to oversee the company’s extensive restructuring.
“Every event is important for Chen – he is the turnaround specialist,” said independent technology analyst Carmi Levy.
“What changes with Wednesday’s event is he’s finally on the hook to deliver on the promises he’s been making for the last ten months.”
Here is what we can expect from Wednesday’s BlackBerry event:
BlackBerry’s newest smartphone is reminiscent of its most popular phones – with a modern twist.
Chen gave a sneak peak at the Passport during the company’s general meeting in June, which means we already have a good idea of the device’s basic features.
The device has a square screen that measures 4.5 inches diagonally and a touch-sensitive QWERTY keyboard – one of the company’s most iconic features. The wider screen fits 60 characters on each line – more than the new iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy Note line, which fit 40.
But the company is already facing some criticism regarding the phone’s square design, which falls between a smartphone and a tablet in size.
CNET simply described it as “peculiar.”
“Imagine a phablet – one of those oversized smartphones with jumbo displays – squished so it almost looks like a square,” read CNET’s preview.
But, as Levy added, it’s important to note that the phone is not intended to be a device for the average consumer; the device is meant for business customers. BlackBerry’s head of global enterprise services suggested those in the healthcare and finance sectors would find it the most useful.
“Don’t expect it to sell 10 million units in three days – don’t expect lineups around the block,” Levy told Global News.
The Passport will start at US$599 without a wireless carrier contract in the U.S., about $50 to $250 cheaper than the iPhone 6 and Samsung’s Galaxy S4. However, Canadian prices for the BlackBerry Passport haven’t been officially released.
Focus on business
BlackBerry appears to be focusing on ways to retain and grow its enterprise user base – arguably its most important group of users – with recent acquisitions.
In early September the company announced it had acquired London-based tech firm Movirtu, whose technology will allow BlackBerry business customers the tools to set up “virtual identities” for employees, with separate personal and corporate phone numbers on a single mobile device.
The company also formed a new business unit that will focus on some of its most innovative technology – including its QNX software – in August.
According to reports, BlackBerry may also reveal new details about BlackBerry Blend Wednesday. The new service would allow users to connect to BlackBerry smartphones from a computer or a tablet.
The company may also release more details about its Enterprise Server 12 update, BlackBerry’s service to companies enabling secure communications, expected in November.
Global News tech reporter Nicole Bogart will have live coverage of the Toronto BlackBerry Passport event, starting at 9 a.m. ET Wednesday.
Those who want to watch the event live can tune into BlackBerry’s live events page to watch a live stream.