Mobile Technology

BlackBerry states its case for the bizarre Passport

BlackBerry states its case for the bizarre Passport
The Passport is one of the more unusual smartphones we've seen in recent years
The Passport is one of the more unusual smartphones we've seen in recent years
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The handset is designed to provide a better experience when viewing spreadsheets and other documents
The handset is designed to provide a better experience when viewing spreadsheets and other documents
The Passport is one of the more unusual smartphones we've seen in recent years
The Passport is one of the more unusual smartphones we've seen in recent years

BlackBerry’s Passport smartphone, which features an unusual large square-shaped display, was met with notable confusion when it was quietly announced during an earnings conference last month. The handset seems to be suffering from an identity crisis – caught between the company’s traditional keyboard-toting smartphones and the larger-screened tablet form-factor. BlackBerry is clearly aware of the issue, and has stepped in to explain why we should be excited about the product’s unusual design.

Though the Passport’s internals are yet to be confirmed (it’s rumored to carry a quad-core Snapdragon CPU), we do know that it will feature a 4.5-inch display with razor-sharp 1,440 x 1,440 resolution (that's 452 pixels per inch). Adding fuel to its unique fire is a somewhat squashed-looking physical Qwerty keyboard. While past keyboard-toting BlackBerry handsets have opted for a roughly 50/50 split between display and keyboard, the Passport pays significantly more attention to the screen, leaving a lot less vertical space for the keyboard.

Given how important typing is on a device aimed at the business market, this may seem like an odd design choice, but BlackBerry claims that there’s method in its madness. The key notion here is that the Passport is not designed as a media consumption device, but represents “the IMAX of productivity,” allowing users to see more of the document or spreadsheet they are working on.

The wider screen allows more characters to be displayed on a single line (60, as opposed the 40 achieved by rectangular smartphones), bringing it close to the academically established optimal 66 characters per line. This, the company says, makes the new device better suited for document and e-book reading, and even web browsing purposes.

The handset is designed to provide a better experience when viewing spreadsheets and other documents
The handset is designed to provide a better experience when viewing spreadsheets and other documents

BlackBerry is keen to point out practical scenarios where the form-factor will shine, including architects viewing full building designs, medical professionals reviewing x-rays with patients, and writers taking advantage of the larger screen real estate, unobscured by a physical keyboard.

While the concept and practical applications do make sense, there seems to be a disconnect between concept and reality. For example, yes, it would be possible for a writer to use the Passport to develop their work, and yes, it would likely be a better experience than that currently offered on more traditional smartphones, but it’s unclear why they would opt to work on the device in the first place. It's also unclear how big your pockets would need to be to squeeze this bad boy in there.

The concept also seems to ignore the existence of tablets, which provide more expansive screens, making them better suited to viewing content, be it professional or otherwise. With most tablets, including the iPad, you can buy keyboard covers that move the typing experience closer to that of a traditional laptop.

While previous attempts to sidestep smartphone display conventions have tended to end with a whimper (we’re looking at you, LG Optimus Vu), Blackberry’s clear focus on business users may help the Passport find its niche. Without hands-on time with the handset, though, it’s impossible to pass judgement. The handset is expected to launch in 2015.

Source: Blackberry

Ralph Oldman
They key on a good point that is a point of contention for me. We have nice amazingly wide monitors these days and are stuck viewing narrow webpages designed for cruddy little devices. I sure hope they figure out a way to let me use the width of my 24" monitor fully again some day for surfing.
As for the BB. I can see their angle now. It should be better for reading documents including emails that is the bulk of my use on my work BB.
People who do keyboard input to do transactions will find the new Blackberry a cinch. It looks a little bizarre at first look, but with its functionality, I find it unique.
It might sell. Most people in this scenario would be using iPAD minis
Most people will dislike this because there is no business shirt pocket that will take this. So it better come with a decent free leather hip pouch :)
Matt Fletcher
Terrible idea, to big for your pants pocket which is where most business people keep their cellphones and if this is going to be used more as a tablet then it's to small (if you have to carry it in a bag and sit at it for 10 minutes or more than it better be bigger).
Currently there are 3 separate portable markets: cellphones (small), tablets (easy to use) and touch laptops (powerful) with watch phones coming on strong in a niche all of their own. This product doesn't fit into any of these markets or merge any two of the markets nicely.
This model will probably sell several million units, by living off it's prior reputation then this design will fizzle out and tarnish their brand name in the process. Still, living on a tarnished reputation is better than dying on an excellent one.
The width is 81 mm, so shirt pocket is fine.
Looks like this is designed for me: Enough screen to review designs and text, and a physical keyboard that is easier to type on compared to a non-tactile on-screen keyboard. If it came without a camera (cameras are a no-go in my business) and the software available made it versatile enough, I might even buy it.
A lot, if not all, of the negatives that are being thrown at this are by people that do not use their smart phone in a true business sense. This is not designed to play games on, it is designed to work on such things as business documents and other work oriented activities and as such it appears that it will fulfil that objective.
I can't understand why there aren't more smartphones with physical keyboards. I am still using a Motorola Pro+ because I just can't stand typing on a virtual keyboard. My Motorola is Ok but of course it is way out of date (still on Gingerbread with no chance to update). I'd dearly love a new Android (and would pay handsomely) but there's no out there with a keyboard. There must surely be a sizeable market of people like me?
BB users have complained about the lack of usable keyboards for other products (iPhones, etc.) for years. They despaired when it looked as though BB was swirling around the drain.
This might be a case of "too little, too late". I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Blackberry needs a *lot* of momentum to come up from under. It's been done before.
The only thing wrong here is that MS Surface Pro and even iPads with BT keyboards are making their way into the corporate boardrooms among executives - in many cases after they tried and rejected the Playbook. I think it's a tossup whether this new form factor will fly. I sincerely hope it does.
Or everyone with this problem could just turn their iPhone or Android phone horizontally and have a wider screen. This thing has zero chance of being successful. I feel sorry for the people who buy it and find it to be an unsupported device shortly thereafter.