BlackBerry bets on its future with Passport phone launch

"We are determined to win back the Canadian home crowd," chief executive John Chen tells crowd at Toronto launch

TORONTO – BlackBerry (TSX:BB) officially unveiled the details of its large-screen Passport smartphone on Wednesday, part of a move the company hopes will solidify its reputation as a priority for business users.

“We are determined to win back the Canadian home crowd,” chief executive John Chen told the audience at the Toronto launch event.

The device is being marketed towards business professionals — particularly in health care, government and the military — about 30 per cent of mobile phone users, the company said.

But it also marks a strategic move under Chen’s plan to rescue BlackBerry from its tarnished reputation 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.

The Passport device is comparable in size to a Canadian passport, a point which Chen demonstrated by placing the device against the government-issued identification booklet.

The smartphone has a square screen that measures 11.4 cm (4.5 inches) and a keyboard the company said is four times more accurate for the user than the phone’s competitors.

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 in Indonesia like BBM Money, 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.

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.