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BlackBerry unveils Passport smartphone

ABOVE: Can the new Passport smartphone turn around the fortunes of struggling Canadian tech giant Blackberry? 

TORONTO – BlackBerry’s newest smartphone took centre stage Wednesday during a global launch event widely seen as the company’s latest attempt to regain declining market share.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based company officially unveiled the BlackBerry Passport – a large square-shaped smartphone aimed at business users – during simultaneous events in Toronto, London and Dubai.

The Passport’s design stands out; the square device is about the size of a Canadian passport, as demonstrated by CEO John Chen during the keynote speech, and features a 4.5-inch HD screen. The wider screen fits 60 characters on each line – more than the new iPhone 6 Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy Note line, which fit around 40.

(CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images). CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images

The device also features the company’s famous QWERTY keyboard, but with a modern twist.

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The phone’s keyboard is now touch-enabled, which allows the user to scroll and navigate their device on the keyboard itself.

Similar to Android devices and Apple’s new predictive text feature, word suggestions pop up on the on-screen extension of the keyboard. Users can simply swipe up to select suggestions.

According to BlackBerry, tests showed that users were four times more accurate when using the touch-enabled keyboard than on previous devices.

LISTEN: Tech reporter Nicole Bogart recaps Wednesday’s BlackBerry event

The Passport is being marketed as a business solution for the company’s enterprise users – a group that makes up about 30 per cent of all mobile phone users, according to Chen. BlackBerry believes it will be most useful to those in the medical, financial and government sectors.

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But releasing a business-oriented device is a strategic move under Chen’s plan to restore BlackBerry’s image and regain some of its lost market share.

Chen said Wednesday’s event also provided an opportunity for him to bring the ailing company back to its roots.

And there was no shortage of Canadiana.

App demos were related back to Canadian business icons like Tim Hortons. Even “The Great One” himself, Wayne Gretzky, showed up to back the device.

But in addition to the fanfare, Chen faced BlackBerry’s public struggles head on.

“We have been through trying times,” he said. “[But] I am sure we are on our way back.”

The company is also scheduled to report its second-quarter financial results on Friday.

The BlackBerry Passport is available starting Wednesday for $699 without a contract. Telus is offering the device for $200 on a two-year contract until Sept. 30 and Bell customers can pre-order the device now for $299 on a two-year contract.

BLOG REPLAY: BlackBerry unveils Passport Smartphone

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