With Passport phone, BlackBerry says it's hip to be square

The struggling smartphone maker offers up its reasons for providing a square-screened phone in a rectangular world.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
2 min read

The BlackBerry Passport, center, up against an Apple iPhone and Samsung smartphone. BlackBerry

If you're wondering why BlackBerry would create a smartphone with a square screen, the company's answer is pretty simple: It's all about getting work done.

In a blog post on the company's website, BlackBerry claimed Monday that its new 4.5-inch display Passport phone -- which goes on sale in September -- will be an ideal device for professionals. It said the square screen and physical keyboard are well-suited for developing spreadsheets, trading stocks, and writing notes.

The smartphone maker went a step further, saying that all the rectangular phones out there -- think Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, and on and on -- may be "limiting innovation," and that a new shape could help change that.

BlackBerry has been struggling to make a turnaround after falling behind in a smartphone market now led by Samsung Electronics and Apple. In November, BlackBerry installed a new chief executive, John Chen, who has been working to refocusing the Canada-based company on business customers instead of general consumers.

That strategy seems to fit well with how BlackBerry is pitching the Passport phone. In the BlackBerry blog post, the company gave examples of architects being able to look at full designs and schematics, healthcare workers looking at X-rays, and traders using Web-based trading platforms, all on their phones.

Sales at BlackBerry have been shrinking for years and the company now holds a small sliver of the overall smartphone market. Still, last month the company posted quarterly losses that weren't as bad as expected, thanks mostly to its efforts to cut costs.

The Passport could help BlackBerry reconnect with its traditional business and government customer, though some may still be wondering whether a square phone will fit in their pockets.