BlackBerry Ltd. unveiled the square-screened Passport phone at events around the world today, as Chief Executive Officer, John Chen, tries to win back business users even in the midst of a turnaround, Bloomberg reports.
“When you come out of restructuring, when you come out of financial problems, once you stabilize the company, customers and the market will only respond if you’re innovating again,” Chen said in an interview before today’s announcement.
The Passport is BlackBerry’s first major new device introduced globally since Chen was named CEO in November, the same day that a planned buyout of the Waterloo, Ontario-based company collapsed.
The Passport is geared toward professionals, part of Chen’s plan to ditch the company’s flagging smartphone sales among consumers and instead concentrate on higher-margin services for corporations.
The new device may help BlackBerry bolster its financial performance, Chen said in an interview on Bloomberg TV today.
“I’ve told people we will be profitable by 2016,” Chen said. “If I could get some growth on the top line, I will be able to make it profitable sooner.”
With a 4.5-inch (11.4-centimeter) screen and a physical qwerty keyboard that doubles as a touch-sensitive swipe pad, the Passport is focused on work productivity.
That stands in contrast to Apple Inc.’s new iPhone 6 and larger iPhone 6 Plus that cater to video consumption for the consumer market.
At an event to unveil the Passport in Toronto today — one of three held simultaneously around the world — Chen brought to the stage former professional hockey player Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky touted the new phone’s long battery life, as Chen called him a Canadian national hero and vowed that BlackBerry will “win our home country back.”
Chen also said the company plans to release the keyboard-equipped Classic smartphone by the end of the year.
BlackBerry is facing a shift in the business world with more workers using their own devices instead of employers providing them, meaning companies aren’t trying to buy new handsets in mass, said Ehud Gelblum, a New York-based analyst with Citigroup Inc.
“There’s this concept that’s been created about this being a seminal moment and this is the turning point,” Gelblum said in a phone interview. “This is just yet the next step.”
The Passport’s target user base of “power professionals” refers to people who are educated, well-paid and employed in security-sensitive industries like health care and finance, said Marty Beard, BlackBerry’s chief operating officer.
“Everything that we’re doing at the company is pointed towards this segment — all of our marketing activity, our sales activity, our partnering activity,” Beard said in a briefing.
Professional users make up almost 10 percent of the global smartphone market, according to the company’s research, Beard said.
“That’s a lot of smartphones, especially in the premium space,” he said, declining to provide specific sales targets.
The company also unveiled BlackBerry Blend, a program that allows employees to access work documents at home without using third-party applications like Dropbox or Google Drive.
It will be available on Apple, Windows and Android devices, Jeff Gadway, BlackBerry’s head of product marketing, said at the event.
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