BlackBerry makes bet on its future with Passport phone launch

TORONTO – BlackBerry embarks on a crucial stage in its recovery plan Wednesday with the expected launch of its Passport smartphone and more details on the company’s future direction.

A multi-city event will unfold in Toronto, Dubai and London, and has been teased by BlackBerry with a “boarding pass” invitation to members of the media.

Chief executive John Chen has already confirmed some of the specifics of the Passport device, which the company says is comparable in size to a government-issued identification booklet.

The smartphone has a square screen that measures 4.5 inches and a keyboard that’s similar to the most popular BlackBerry models.

But aside from the BlackBerry Passport, the event will be a significant move by Chen to help boost his company’s profile in the highly competitive smartphone market.

Since joining BlackBerry last fall, Chen has been tasked with turning around the struggling Waterloo, Ont.,-based company and he has responded by cutting expenses across international operations, reducing the workforce and changing priorities to focus on business customers instead of the consumer market.

But competitors like Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy models have been encroaching on the enterprise market, where BlackBerry was once considered nearly untouchable with its dominant market share.

The company responded by launching features like BBM Money in Indonesia, which allows users to pay through a BlackBerry Messenger app at participating retailers.

Blackberry has also opened up its secure enterprise platform to support Apple and Samsung smartphones.

Wednesday’s multi-city event could offer a closer look at the BlackBerry Classic, a new take on its popular older smartphones that’s slated to hit the market later this year.

Before the end of the year, BlackBerry is expected to release numerous software updates, including BlackBerry Enterprise Server 12, a refreshed version of its management system for IT professionals who oversee employee phones.

BlackBerry is also scheduled to report its second-quarter financial results on Friday.