Around half a decade ago, one of the most respected phones was the BlackBerry. It was designed for work, concentrating on providing adults with modern tools of communication. But soon, its vision fell short to the growing power of the app market and the emergence of Apple and Samsung’s smartphones. Very soon, they were lost from the tech spotlight to other companies, even emerging ones such as HTC or One-Plus. Android and iOS became the most celebrated systems, and apart from a few individuals working with Windows OS or the Ubuntu concept phone, major development stemmed to Android and iOS. So what happened to Blackberry? Did it really just die out?
It somewhat did. This isn’t a story where a valiant competitor disappears for a few years only to return with a powerful product. Such may be the story of Motorola, which after Google’s acquisition of it, returned with the Moto X and Moto G. For a company that created the ultra-thin fad (though barely thin by today’s standards) of the Motorola Razor years ago, the emergence of the popular and praiseworthy Moto X was partial redemption for their disappearance. But BlackBerry, unlike Motorola, faces a harsher reality: its marketing towards business minded customers was dying at the rise of high powered apps that beat any built-in native architecture.
But now BlackBerry is back with a refined business purpose. It isn’t marketing to adults necessarily. It is marketing to specific types of specialists: health care workers, government officials, and bank workers. Their new product, the Passport, is distinct from major smartphones in its inclusion of a letters-only keyboard with actual material buttons. It also has a more squarish shape (like a real Passport). 13 MP camera. Around 32 GB of internal memory. Made with Gorilla Glass 3. Is the display/aesthetic marketed towards college students, teenagers, or general adults? Not by any means. But the specifications aren’t at all lacking compared to other major smartphones, and Blackberry fans may appreciate the more modern touch behind the Passport. It also features the Blackberry Assistant, which is a similar alternate to modern voice to command systems such as Siri or Google Now.
John S. Chen, the executive of BlackBerry, somewhat indicates his own acceptance that smartphones in general will never be their strength. Amid the Passport’s attempt to create a more modern BlackBerry product, it still doesn’t have the development behind its design. The keyboard is also still slower than touch screen keyboards.
Their financial results clearly signify their demise. BlackBerry quarterly net loss last December, for instance, was $4.4 billion. With Apple selling millions of phones in comparison, Mr. Chen isn’t being hyperbolic when he states that the smartphone game is troubling. But lately, he indicated that he wants to transition the company to create devices that fit modern software. Like car dashboard displays for instance. He sheds optimism that directing their corporate energy to these ventures would prove more unique and satisfy a better market.
For me, I am skeptical. Very. BlackBerry seems to be entirely desperate to flood a very specific niche by offering them a status symbol which may be years behind in innovation in terms of development. Google is already flooding new smart technology with their thermostat project Nest, and Samsung launched a futuristic video displaying their intention to turn daily objects into smart displays. For anything that requires computing and hacking power, developers turn to Linux. For customers looking for a status symbol, they often turn to Apple or some expensive Android phone. BlackBerry seems to want to thread a line between the two, and frankly, a line that shouldn’t necessarily exist in the first place.
But on an opposite note, the Passport is one of their most refined products launched. Only time will tell if it lives up to its expectations. Or the company’s hopeful future.