I’m beginning to sense a trend here. Jamshed Avari of NDTV Gadgets is the latest online reviewer to take a look at the BlackBerry Passport and he likes what he sees, very much. But before diving into his praise of BlackBerry’s renewed focus on QWERTY and innovative designs, a little preamble is in order:
Many, many articles have been written about BlackBerry’s fall from grace; about how it completely failed to read and respond to a changing market, and the sequence of poor judgment calls that transformed its product line from a dominant cultural force into a vaguely unpleasant memory. This is a company that managed to alienate its core user base, eliminate the feature they loved most, and not understand for years what it had been doing wrong. The post-decline BlackBerry product line has had more misses than hits and the appeal of the platform has all but evaporated.
And still, the company isn’t dead. Still, there are people who cling to their old phones or cry that the ones they’ve had to move to just don’t feel right. Still, there are people who desperately want the company to release a phone that feels and functions just like a classic QWERTY BlackBerry and will race to buy it as soon as that happens.
The Passport is not that phone.
Without quibbling about what constituted BlackBerry’s mistakes in the past, I agree with Jamshed that the Passport is not the phone that will satisfy the core userbase that like legacy BlackBerry phones. Indeed, ‘that’ phone is the upcoming BlackBerry Classic (Aka the ‘diehards’ phone) which will act as a bridge for legacy users to update to the wonderful world of BlackBerry 10. Jamshed sees the Passport, albeit a QWERTY device, as an entirely different creature:
It’s something entirely new; it might make some of those loyal customers very happy while disappointing others, but it also might appeal to those who never thought they’d consider a BlackBerry again. It’s a brave, imaginative device that rethinks what a smartphone should be and how it should work. … This is BlackBerry in attack mode; finding things that its competitors cannot or will not do, leveraging its strengths in hardware and software, and exploiting the shortcomings of the homogenous rectangles that all smartphones have come to be. This is the company deliberately upsetting the status quo and giving buyers something different and potentially better to consider.
I can confirm that the Passport does appeal to users who have left the BlackBerry platform, and has made them take another look. And Jamshed is the first reviewer I’ve seen that actually has noted a sound rationale behind the square 1:1 ratio (beyond BlackBerry of course):
Rectangular screens have become the de facto standard, and although they’re good for movies and many forms of games, they aren’t the most natural shape for many other things. Sensing an opportunity to improve productivity, BlackBerry has gone with a perfectly square 1:1 screen, with room beneath it for a three-line keyboard.
De Facto – in practice or actuality, but not officially established. Which implies that it’s not necessarily the case that all phone have to be rectangular, or that the game is over in terms of design.
And like Matthew Miller, Jamshed highlights BlackBerry’s heresy in simplifying the physical keyboard – dropping the non-letter mappings, and alt and sym keys in favour of a clean, minimalist design:
Most importantly, there’s the keyboard. This isn’t the standard BlackBerry keyboard that purists might have been hoping and wishing for. First of all, it has only three rows which means that the space bar divides the ZXCV and BNM keys. You’ll also notice the lack of Shift and Alt modifiers. If that wasn’t horrifying enough, the keys have been stripped of their alternate symbols. The secret, which is the Passport’s most brilliant innovation, is that the physical keyboard is only half the story: the other half has been implemented in software.
There’s much more to Jamshed’s review, but having whetted your appetite, I’ll leave it there and encourage you to jump over to NDTV Gadgets and support them with your clicks.
At this point, it’s an understatement to say that it looks like BlackBerry has really struck on something unique and exciting in the Passport. And given the no-nonsense belt-wielding design of the upcoming BlackBerry Classic, I’d say things are looking very good in the future.
And one final thought, looking on these recent positive reviews: a year ago everyone had written off the company as finished, and John Chen was soon to be announced. Think back to then, and look at everything that has been accomplished since then. It’s quite remarkable, and a stark reminder that how quickly things can change!