Can the Passport save BlackBerry?

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

TORONTO – BlackBerry CEO John Chen officially launched the company’s latest smartphone Wednesday, in an attempt to thrust the one-time Canadian tech darling back into the spotlight.

The device, dubbed BlackBerry 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.

READ MORE: BlackBerry unveils Passport smartphone

The Waterloo, Ont.-based company has lost a large part of its consumer user base to competitors like Apple and Samsung, but has managed to hang on to some key enterprise users, including some U.S. government bodies.

“We have been through trying times,” Chen said during the Toronto launch event. “[But] I am sure we are on our way back.”

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But can the Passport save the ailing smartphone maker?

Jack Gold, principle analyst at Boston-based J. Gold Associates, believes that the company is on the right track with the Passport.

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“What they are trying to re-establish with the Passport product is that enterprise and business users are first, that productivity really matters,” he said.

Gold, who has followed the company’s restructuring closely, said BlackBerry will benefit from its reputation for putting productivity and security first.

“I think many users in business are unhappy with just having an iPhone or Android for their primary business uses,” said Gold.

“I don’t want to use the term resurgence, because that’s probably an overstatement, but I think they will see some of the people who defected come back to BlackBerry.”

WATCH: BlackBerry CEO John Chen discusses Passport

But not everyone is convinced.

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Mihkel Tombak, professor in technology management at the University of Toronto, said the Passport may help prolong BlackBerry’s life, but he’s skeptical that the company will be able to bounce back.

“Having a lower-priced handset will help BlackBerry but whether it’s enough… I’m skeptical,” he said.

“One of the lessons we learned from Nokia is the action isn’t in handsets, they always get made cheaper and margins are put under pressure.”

But Chen thinks his company can avoid this fate thanks to its software solutions like the BlackBerry Blend application, which securely links a user’s smartphone and data like email, BBM and other documents, seamlessly with their nearby computer or tablet.

“It’s about a solution – [but] it’s not about just handsets,” he said.
“With all of the competitors […] it’s going to be very difficult to make money. But if you provide a solution that is very high-end, that is very useful, I think there is a chance to have a good business.”

Attention now shifts to BlackBerry’s second-quarter financial results, which will be released on Friday, to get a better sense of how Chen’s revitalization efforts are working.

The Passport was sold out on BlackBerry’s website Wednesday, though it is unclear how many units the company actually sold.


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