Sunday, September 28, 2014

Passport Won't Stamp BlackBerry For Gains

Struggling smartphone company BlackBerry has released its response to the "phablet" craze: the Passport. Designed like the boxy object for which it is named — "the universal symbol of mobility," BlackBerry said – the Passport is a 4.5-inched square that BlackBerry touts has better resolution than Apple's AAPL +2.94% iPhone 6 Plus or Samsung's Galaxy S5. Yet for all the superlatives included in the Passport announcement, early Wall Street reviews have been quick to point out that the Passport might have trouble taking off.

Based on the details about the new phone that BlackBerry released Wednesday afternoon, the Passport is aiming to meet (and surpass) its competitors feature by feature while also amending the company's previous missteps: Siri, meet BlackBerry Assistant. Struggling with that iOS 8 battery life? BlackBerry says its new phone has "the largest [battery] among the top selling smartphones and phablets and, when tested against a very active user, provides up to 30 hours of mixed use." And for BlackBerry devotees who were shocked by the Z10′s missing keyboard, the Passport has brought the keyboard back.

"The BlackBerry Passport was created to drive productivity and to break through the sea of rectangular-screen, all-touch devices," BlackBerry chairman and CEO John Chen said in a statement.

"We believe the square shape of the screen could make the vast store of Android apps now available via the Amazon app store a disappointing experience as most were designed for a longer screen implying they would need to be redesigned," wrote Citi analyst Ehud Gelblum in a note on Wednesday.

Gelblum also criticized BlackBerry's pricing plan, which calls for the Passport to be available in the US (via Amazon) and in Canada (via Telus) for a "6-day exclusive for $200″ with a two-year contract, but that price will rise to $250 on October 1. Without a contract, the Passport will cost $599, but Gelblum said that BlackBerry has plans to raise that price, a move he called "an odd and not very customer-friendly decision." As it is, the Passport is only $50 cheaper than the iPhone 6; it's more competitive against the iPhone 6 Plus, which costs $150 more than the Passport.

The Passport announcement was not enough to move Citi's price target or rating for BlackBerry; the investment firm reiterated its "sell" call and $8 price target.

Unfortunately for Chen, early reviews indicate that the Passport might be too square to be hip.

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