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Blackberry Passport phablet will launch in September

CEO John Chen shows off device with 4.5in screen and full keyboard
Fri Jun 20 2014, 15:04

CANADIAN PHONE MAKER Blackberry has unveiled its next handset, the Passport, which will feature a 4.5in screen and a physical QWERTY keyboard.

Blackberry CEO John Chen confirmed rumours of the handset during the firm's earnings call on Thursday. He told listeners that the phone previously known as the Windermere will be launched at a London event in September, and will go on sale in November.

Chen did not give further detail of the phone, so the specifications are yet to be confirmed. However he did say, "go in and check out the leak", indicating that the rumoured features are correct.

According to those leaks, the Blackberry Passport will have a 4.5in square display with 1440x1440 resolution. The handset, shown off on the left below in a pic from Crackberry, will be wider than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, but this does mean Blackberry has managed to squeeze in the full keyboard underneath the screen.

Blackberry CEO John Chen shows off Passport and Classic handsets. Image via Crackberry

We haven't been impressed so far by the leaked shots of the Passport. One of the advantages of the original Blackberrys was the fact they fit a full keyboard into a fairly small and light device. While people have moved to devices with larger measurements to take advantage of their bigger screens, the Passport screen is still smaller than the latest crop of devices but in a larger device. We also can't imagine the square design of the Passport will make it the most comfortable to hold over long periods.

Chen also showed off the Blackberry Classic, which looks like more of a standard update to the firm's stable with a smaller screen and full keyboard.

During the conference call, Chen was pretty upbeat about Blackberry's current successes and chances for the future, naming wins over firms such as Good Technology and Mobileiron and the upcoming BES 12 as particular highlights.

The CEO was clear where his priorities are for turning the firm around, and that's firmly in the enterprise, and with software and services. He talked in detail about the importance of products like BES 12, EZ Pass and retaining relationships with CIOs during the call, with less focus on hardware and devices.

Chen was particularly optimistic about the EZ Pass programme, which tempts firms over to BES 10 for managing their Blackberry, iOS and Android devices from BES 5 or competitor products. Announcing 1.2 million licences for the program, Chen noted that Blackberry had done particularly well nabbing customers from Good Technology and Mobileiron, with around 120,000 licences coming from that route. However, he wants to grow that significantly with the launch of BES 12.

"The 1.2 million is low in my book, I don't know how big I should be looking but I would expect it to be literally in the tens of millions. It has to be," he said.

Chen was very candid in the outlook for BES 12, acknowledging that he'd managed to convince some customers to try it out or stay with the mobile management software, but in "some of the cases I showed up and it's a little too late" to stop them going to competitors.

Chen was keen to reel off the recent roster of Blackberry product announcements, including the firm's push into Internet of Things, the tie-up with Amazon, and the launch of BBM Protected. Of the latter, the CEO said 15 existing BES customers have taken part in trial deployments, while Blackberry received 450 enquiries within the first 24 hours of launch.

BBM currently has 85 million monthly active users, and Chen hopes this will pass the 100 million mark by the end of 2014, after the Windows Phone version launches in July.

Chen batted off suggestions that the firm's Amazon app deal could prevent developers from continuing to invest in the Blackberry World ecosystem by claiming that developers will continue to develop Blackberry apps for the security on offer.

These launches will be followed by BBM Meetings and the Passport in September, BES 12 in November and QNX Cloud in December. "There's nothing in August to celebrate everyone going away everywhere," Chen quipped.

If the above fails to get the firm back on track, Blackberry can always regroup in the Far East or South America. Chen was very excited about the prospects for him firm in Indonesia - where the Z3 has gone down a storm, apparently - Venezuela and Argentina, not the first markets that spring to our mind for large-scale enterprise mobile deployments, but clearly Blackberry has spotted a niche.

For its fiscal first quarter of 2015 - or March to May 2014 for us laymen - the Canadian firm posted revenues of $966m, down one percent from $976m in the previous quarter. However, this is a huge drop on the same quarter the previous year, when the firm reeled in $3.07bn.

On the income front, Blackberry made $23m, compared with losing $423m in the previous quarter, and $84m for the same quarter in the previous year. However, if you take out a one-time accounting gain and certain restructuring charges, the firm actually made a loss of $60m for its most recent quarter, so it's not out the woods yet.

The $60m is equivalent to a loss of 11 cents a share, significantly lower than analyst expectations of 25 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters. This news caused Blackberry shares to surge ahead of trading on Thursday. As of 2pm BST, Blackberry shares were trading at $9.36, up nearly 13 percent from $8.29 when the market closed on Wednesday. µ


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