"Wow that thing is big."
"I miss a keyboard."
"It's old school."
Those were some of the reactions to BlackBerry's Passport when seen in the wild. The BlackBerry Passport, a 4.5-inch diagonal square, is exactly the size of a real passport and rejects the traditional shape of smartphones.
Passport represents BlackBerry's focus on the enterprise — notably regulated verticals such as financial services, government, and healthcare. By outsourcing its app store to Amazon, BlackBerry can run the essential consumer applications needed to be a credible bring-your-own-device play.
That Amazon partnership also frees BlackBerry up to develop industry specific applications.
The screen of Passport, as tall as it is wide, lends itself to applications such as medical image viewers. At launch BlackBerry will highlight a Bloomberg app. Unlike Bloomberg's iOS and Android news apps, the Passport version will be more like the terminals you'll find at Wall Street firms.
When I was briefed by BlackBerry's marketing folks, the word nostalgia came up as much as terms like work containers, industries and security. The Passport aims to bridge the gap between BlackBerry's base, which prefers keyboards, and users that want more modern technology. Passport's keyboard is interesting. It serves as a keyboard as well as a touch pad. BlackBerry 10's ability to learn your keystrokes and text habits improves accuracy.
In other words, Passport is a lot like modern muscle cars.
General Motors' Chevy Camaro, Ford's Mustang and the Dodge Challenger all resemble their 1960s and 1970s versions. The cars pack horsepower, have a healthy dose of nostalgia and target a limited somewhat older audience. Inside, you'll find the modern amenities you'd expect in a current automobile.
The Passport is trying to hit the same vibe. But like current muscle cars, the audience is likely to be limited. What are the sales expectations for the Passport? Again, it's worth looking at the muscle car. Year to date, GM has sold 64,767 Camaros out of nearly 1.39 million Chevrolets sold, or 4 percent.
Passport's audience is also likely to be limited. But for corporations looking to hand out devices that can double as tablets, view documents and attachments well and offer a high level of security BlackBerry's device may not seem so freaky. Add it up and I have a hard time imagining the Passport being a bring-your-own-device superstar. I can see companies handing a few of these out.
Should the Passport get traction as a corporate handout it has an outside shot of becoming the ThinkPad of smartphones.
Unfortunately, the Passport is launching as Microsoft's Nokia phablet, Apple's iPhone 6 Plus, and Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 are all hitting the market at the same time. Simply put, the Passport isn't going to win that beauty contest. But if you're a person who has to digest a ton of attachments, prefers more of a desktop Web experience and lives in email, the Passport is worth a look. The screen dimensions do allow you to digest more content.
The Passport's screen allows for 60 characters on a line. The print standard is 66 characters and the Galaxy Note 3 has 44 characters. In other words, the Passport is more like reading a print doc in terms of what you see on the screen.
"You are able to see more on one screen without a scroll," Sarah Jacobs, senior product marketing manager at BlackBerry, said. "Passport is built for productivity and the target audience is the mobile professional who carries two devices."
Here's a screen of a spreadsheet on the BlackBerry Passport.
The iPhone 6:
And in landscape:
And the iPhone 6 Plus:
The big question is whether BlackBerry can find a real audience for the Passport. A few takeaways to consider for the business exec.
As for availability, the Passport will be available on Amazon and ShopBlackBerry (sbb.com) in Canada, France, Germany, UK and U.S. Carrier availability wasn't immediately available.
The "introductory offer" pricing goes like this:
Contract pricing is expected to be about $249 depending on the carrier and promotions. BlackBerry plans to make the Passport available in more than 30 countries via carriers and distribution partners.
Bottom line: As I've noted before, the BlackBerry Passport is crazy enough to work. But to think that a consumer or mobile professional will make the Passport the No. 1 draft pick in a smartphone/phablet bakeoff may be a bit unrealistic.
If the Passport succeeds it will do so because regulated corporations — BlackBerry's sweet spot in its turnaround plan — will hand out the smartphone as a work device.