The first thing you will notice about the BlackBerry Passport is that it looks nothing like the iPhone 6. That’s as far as most people will delve into the matter, but it’s an important distinction. The device I currently use, the BlackBerry Z10, was released about a year and a half ago and disappeared into the basic sameness of the market, despite some differentiating features that simply went unnoticed by most of the tech press.
That, of course, was BlackBerry’s big comeback and it fell flat.
The Passport isn’t designed for everyone. It’s not a bid at mass-market supremacy, and anyway that ship has probably sailed for anyone not named Samsung or Apple. So BlackBerry, under the quietly impressive reigns of new leader John Chen, has zigged where it used to zag.
“We weren’t looking for comfort,” Chen told the Globe and Mail. “It had to stand out and be strong. The design had to be aggressive. Love it or hate it, it had to be polarizing.”
The device was designed, the company says, for professionals. It is, in fact, the actual embodiment of a BlackBerry ad from a couple years ago. It’s a tool not a toy. Today, the company showed off how the Passport’s browser paired with its physical keyboard creates a better browsing experience because users get to see more of the page, a feature Business Insider today described as a “big advantage” over the iPhone 6. It says its physical keyboard is four times more accurate than its own virtual keyboards.
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As part of the device’s launch this morning, BlackBerry also demonstrated how the Passport might be used by enterprise customers, displaying an x-ray image its said would be distorted or cut off on other phones. “In situations where you need a greater view of documents, medical imagery or technical schematics – screen size really does matter,” it said.
On a trip to Waterloo this past summer, I spotted The Passport a couple times in bars and in restaurants and talked to the BlackBerry employees who were discretely toting them. It seemed to be the only Blackberry handset in recent memory that created buzz amongst its own staff. Whether The Passport will generate curiosity amongst the general public is another matter, but one analyst thinks it has a legitimate shot. “The fact that it has a polarizing design makes people want to touch it,” Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research told CNET. “When you pick it up, you’ll either love it or hate it.”
For niche market players -and make no mistake, that’s what the new BlackBerry very much is- different is good.