By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated July 08, 2014.
BlackBerry is out with its Passport smartphone. The new device stands out for one geometrical attribute: it's square.
"It's hip to be square," the Canadian smartphone maker asserted Monday on its Inside BlackBerry blog. The Passport offers a 4.5-inch square 1440 x 1440 screen with full HD, and, the company said, provides the same viewing space as a five-inch phone, but with "an even better viewing experience because of the screen's width."
The company offers several reasons why a square form factor is better. For one thing, BlackBerry said, the optimal number of characters in a line from a physical book is 66.
40 Versus 60 Characters
However, most current smartphones show only about 40 characters, while the Passport will have 60 -- thus presenting "the ideal device for reading e-books, viewing documents and browsing the Web." The idea is that, if your phone is square, deciding whether to view something in a portrait or landscape mode could be a thing of the past.
Use cases cited by the smartphone maker include architects and mortgage brokers looking at full designs and schematics on the go, or doctors reviewing X-rays or medical documentation in the office with a patient. Stockbrokers would have enough real estate to more clearly see financial transactions and information, not to mention the ability to somewhat navigate spreadsheets. For anyone needing a more spread-out QWERTY physical keyboard, the Passport's screen is still visible while you type -- unlike virtual keyboards on most smartphones.
The Passport was revealed by the company last month, and is expected to be formally launched in September at a London event. While software and in-phone hardware innovations are having a difficult time standing out from the deluge of features in countless competing smartphones, a dramatically new form factor could help BlackBerry set itself apart while providing an easier-to-use productivity device for professionals.
However, while this is the first totally square phone, there have been other phones with "squarish" designs including the LG Vu series, which also has rounded corners. While the shape of the Passport does appear to suit software and files better than rectangular smartphones, there's also the question of whether it will easily fit into most pockets and if it can be readily held in one hand.
Meanwhile, in other BlackBerry news, there's good news for Windows Phone-owning fans of BlackBerry's popular Messenger: the communications app is now in the Windows Phone store. The not-quite-so-good news: it's only available in private beta mode.
The app was made available last year to much acclaim and millions of downloads for users of iOS and Android devices. The Windows Phone version had been promised by this summer for versions 8 and 8.1, and a beta version with more open availability is expected in the next few weeks.
Additionally, a story in The Economic Times of Indian revealed recently that BlackBerry has invested in a health tech firm called NantHealth, resulting in a minority share. BlackBerry will work with NantHealth to launch its healthcare platform in Indian hospitals.