Feature Article

July 10, 2014

Introducing the Passport, Blackberry's Smart-Mo-Tab-Computer... Thing

If you haven't had the chance to look at Blackberry's upcoming device, the Passport, go do that. It's quite interesting to say the least, even if it is a bit, well... square.

It's a 4.5-inch cross between a phone and a tablet that happens to be much wider than it is long. As the company claims in a recent blog post discussing their design process, the Passport is "based on academic typology." The optimal number of characters for a single line in a traditional book is 66, and the Passport was manufactured to accommodate that element. Apparently, most mobile devices only allow for 40 characters or so, and 60 if you switch to landscape viewing.

In turn, Blackberry claims the device is ideal for reading e-books, viewing documents and browsing the web. They also claim there will be "no more worrying about portrait or landscape modes, and no; you aren’t missing anything."

"There’s a marriage of form and function with a rhyme and reason to it."

The key takeaway here, or at least what Blackberry claims it to be, is the Passport has been designed with business professionals in mind. Blackberry blogger Matt Young goes on to point out many different scenarios in which the device would come in handy, including a list of professionals who might need something like this. According to him, architects, mortgage brokers, doctors, nurses, finance professionals and market analysts will all find the device quite accommodating.

Perhaps most interesting, he points out writers will have a "navigable keyboard" that doesn't cover most of the screen while typing. This will allow them to push out content much faster, because they're not spending time fiddling with menus, or the UI. That doesn't just trickle out to writers, though, as a lot of people dislike virtual keyboards—at least that's how they feel about the current design used in most smartphones. While virtual keyboards have definitely advanced over the years, they are no match for a physical keyboard when it comes to banging out loads of content or text.

Yes, Blackberry actually claims "it's hip to be square."

Readability Is the New Black

It is refreshing to see the brand adding a new spin to the smart-mo-tab-computer or whatever it ends up being classified as. In a world full of gimmicks like 3D screens and curved glass, a more traditional approach seems smarter - the Passport is akin to a notepad or a book size-wise. That being said, the design alone is not going to skyrocket this thing to success. When it comes to the software side of things, let's just say Blackberry has never really excelled in that area.

It just makes you wonder a bit: what will the impact of the Passport be? What is Blackberry’s product liability, and how will they serve an ever-expanding market?

It sure is an excellent idea, tailoring the actual design of a device to pander to text-heavy content—which is what most business people spend their time with—but who knows where it will go from here?

The biggest problem with doing something new like this is you have to get the device into the hands of your customers. In this case, Blackberry has chosen to focus on the enterprise and professional market—most of which has likely invested in a competing platform. Blackberry has to convince them to drop everything they are doing on more traditional mobile devices to adopt this new format. Of course, they'll also need to hone their software game by beefing up their OS enough to take on the competition. Blackberry 10 is great, but it still has a long way to go to be on an even keel with rivals in terms of features and functionality.

Of course, this is primarily speculation. It would be silly to dismiss the device by failing to admit it looks a bit alluring and attractive. In addition, just the concept alone should already have some pull in the market. Perhaps Blackberry is on to something here.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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