New Passport device marks once-floundering company’s strongest play yet
Singapore key as other SEA markets look to regional hub as business role model
IT’S been pretty busy at BlackBerry since new chief executive officer John Chen took the helm in November last year.
After a serious re-think about its core business and what exactly is the key value it brings to customers, the Canadian company has recently begun articulating its new focus to the wider market.
On Sept 24, BlackBerry held the global launch of Passport; its newest device and the most front-facing demonstration of a new laser-like focus on serving the enterprise space.
Market reception of the company’s first major device under a new leadership team was encouraging, with the company selling out 200,000 units just hours after the Passport going on sale online, with another 200,000 back orders waiting in line on launch day.
The launch was followed by some positive reports about BlackBerry's financial performance as well, the result of its turnaround strategy that is more focused on software and services. Chen has been swift in offloading certain assets, cutting costs and strengthening the company's balance sheet.
BlackBerry reported a smaller quarterly loss, with encouraging signs from its smartphone business as well as its software and services sales, spurring a more than 4% jump in its shares.
It had a net loss of US$207 million for its second quarter ended Aug 30 compared with a year-earlier loss of US$965 million. Revenue was US$916 million, versus US$1.57 billion a year earlier.
On the services front, the company reported a huge number of conversions in its second quarter to its new device management platform, BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES10).
Its EZ Pass Program has resulted in 3.4 million licences issued for BES10, a nearly three-fold increase from last quarter, with 25% of total licences traded in from competitors’ Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms.
According to a report by Reuters, Chen said he expects software revenue to double next year from around US$250 million in the current fiscal year as the company wins converts to BES10.
The platform allows companies and government agencies to manage and secure not just BlackBerry devices running on their networks, but also Android, Windows and iOS-based phones and tablets.
Unapologetically serious mobility tool
BlackBerry marked the official Sept 30 launch of Passport in Singapore with the announcement that it will be available via all three major carriers – M1, Singtel and StarHub – with a recommended retail price of S$938 (US$737).
At a press briefing, BlackBerry Singapore managing director Cameron Vernest described the device’s market introduction as a “milestone” for the company.
“The BlackBerry Passport is aimed at mobile professionals and will allow users to elevate their productivity and collaborate more effectively.
“With this in mind, we believe the BlackBerry Passport will resonate well as Singapore is seen as a regional hub for many businesses and organisations,” he added.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) on the sidelines of the launch event, Vernest said that the Passport really personified the company’s continued mission to be innovative and “challenge the norm for the device-side business.”
It was worth noting that despite the company’s recent challenges, it had still spent US$1.5 billion on research and development, he argued.
“While other companies have been spending their big money on marketing, we’ve been focused on innovation,” he said.
The Passport sports an unusual design that has garnered much attention, with the same height and width as most international travel passports, and a square 4.5in 1:1 screen ratio, making it stand out from the norm of rectangular screens.
On the hardware front, the Passport boasts a Quad Core 2.2 GHz Processor, 3GB RAM, 13MP OIS rear camera and 32GB memory.
The Passport also marks a return to the company’s signature physical keyboard, with a responsive touch surface that works much like a trackpad.
During the product demonstration, BlackBerry’s senior director of product management for Asia Pacific Damian Tay (pic) highlighted some key features.
First is BlackBerry Assistant, the company’s first digital assistant, which can be used with voice and text commands to help users manage work and personal email, contacts, calendar and other native BlackBerry 10 applications.
According to Tay, the BlackBerry Assistant intelligently determines how to respond to you based on how you interact with it – if you type, it responds silently; if you speak, it speaks back; and if you activate over Bluetooth, it speaks back with additional context because it assumes you might not have access to the screen.
Another notable feature is BlackBerry Blend, which is already garnering positive feedback, a new app that seamlessly brings messaging and content from a user’s BlackBerry smartphone to his or her computer and tablet.
It supports Windows, iOS, Mac and Android operating systems, and is being touted for its security features, including three layers of user authentication and a secure work environment.
Once work is done using Blend, all data and information is completely removed from the connected machine.
Another key development worth noting is the announcement in June when BlackBerry signed a licensing agreement with Amazon to bring more than 200,000 Android apps to its users via a dedicated Amazon Appstore for the BlackBerry 10.3 operating system.
Tay said that BlackBerry World would now be dedicated to enterprise-facing apps, with developer support for those who want to optimise their apps for BlackBerry environments.
Next page: Four core pillars; Singapore the key to SEA success