Blackberry refresh what made it famous

Blackberry's first new phone under CEO John Chen, the Passport, is an interesting example of a brand trying to go back to the core and get it growing again. We posted on the launch of the new phone back in February here.

Early reports have been pretty positive overall, with The Register saying: "It’s seriously put itself back in contention with a powerful and practical phone for grown-ups, and grabs the ‘Think Different’ laurels back from Apple." 

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Here are a few thoughts on this new launch.

1. Remembering what made Blackberry famous

I first posted about Blackberry heading off course back in 2011, here. I suggested that by trying to be a hip and cool smartphone company like Apple (see ad campaign below), Blackberry would suffer from a double whammy: first, it was never going to be cool enough to attract iPhone users; second, it risked forgetting and even alienating its core business users. And suffer the company did, with more than a billion dollars in losses.

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The Passport is the first really strong signal that the brand is re-focusing on what made it famous, as a report in Times says: "The company has gone back to its roots. Its new smartphone is aimed squarely at the business users upon whom it built its reputation."

Whereas 18 months ago singer Alicia Keys was being presented as Blackberry's Creative Director, last week the focus was back on improving productivity and efficiency. The Passport "features a physical keyboard and a much wider screen so that professionals can load spreadsheets, presentations and share price charts", the Times goes on to say.

2. Refresh what made Blackberry famous

Blackberry has also tried to refresh what made it famous with the Passport. First, the shape of the phone is distinctive – the same size and shape as a real, physical passport. This makes the phone look different. But more importantly, it also has some practical benefits in terms of inputting information. For example, one app for surgeons can shows X-rays on the screen, something that cannot be easily done on a conventional smartphone. 

Other new features include a display that the The Register reports "is strikingly good" and "a tremendous canvas for reading". The size/shape of screen means you can also read more of an eBook or email: 66 characters per line vs. 33 per line. 

3. Wave after wave of core renovation 

The Passport is a first wave of activity aimed at renovating the core of Blackberry. But this is just a start. To pull of the tough task of rejuvenating the brand, the company will need wave after wave of renovation activity. Encouragingly, the company is planning to launch a “classic” model later this year with a tiny keyboard and trackpad that for many people was a key feature of the Blackberry of old.

In conclusion, the Passport is a good example of a brand re-focusing on its core business by remembering and refreshing what made it famous. If CEO Chen is given time to follow this up with other waves of renovation he's in with a chance of getting the company, and the share price, growing again.

So, for now, I'm holding on to my Blackberry shares and crossing my fingers!