New Blackberry phone aimed at small share of small market

27 September 2014 by Steve Blum
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The Blackberry Passport was unveiled this week. It would be a great product, if it ran the Android OS. It’s physically unique in a useful way. The phablet form factor makes it possible to do work on it, in the classic document-centric sense. The physical keyboard will suit some people better than virtual ones, even though the layout is less than intuitive. And it’s rugged, which makes it attractive to a wide range of users, particularly people who work on their feet or outside. So long as they have a big pocket to put it in.

Unfortunately, it runs Blackberry 10. Launching an oddball form factor into a big ecosystem will sometimes produce a hit product. Launching an oddball product into an oddball niche guarantees slow acceptance and low sales figures. Anyone who buys it has to be both comfortable with the size and other physical characteristics and with the Blackberry OS. Those are fractional markets, and when you multiply two fractions together you get an even smaller number.

Corporate IT managers may love it, but they have to respond to the BYOD desires of their internal customers. That leaves the government IT market, which taken on a world wide basis is probably big enough to keep it alive. But it won’t thrive.

Roll it out as an Android device and it’s both a platform for innovative apps for field work and ironic enough to be fashionable. With Blackberry 10, though, it’s the smart phone equivalent of a Ford Taurus with the government fleet trim package: bland, work-focused and designed to look like whoever bought it was primarily worried about not getting fired.