TECH

BlackBerry's Latest Smartphone Launch Was Its Strangest Yet

26/09/2014 12:26 BST | Updated 26/09/2014 12:59 BST

BlackBerry has a new phone. It's called the Passport, and it's really square.

We knew it existed weeks ago because there's a section of BlackBerry's website completely devoted to it, even though it wasn't officially announced. Just in case, BlackBerry held an official launch event in London at the Churchill Hotel near Portman Square this week anyway. This is what it was like to be there in person.

I was just curious. BlackBerry had almost entirely slipped off my radar, as it had for many technology journalists. We all knew that they were making big changes and as we've just seen, those changes are beginning to translate into actual numbers.

BlackBerry has just announced that it is losing money every quarter, $207 million this quarter alone. That's actually a good thing, because the year before that it was losing almost four times as much. The changes BlackBerry makes are directly translating into what looks like a return to profitability. Which when you think about it, would be an incredible achievement. So yes, I was curious.

Arriving at the hotel I immediately realised that this launch was a much bigger deal than I had anticipated: there were registration desks and people walking around with miniature beef wellingtons. This is usually a bad sign, unless you're hungry.

Registration involved picking up an identity card with a red strap that loudly exclaimed 'PRESS'. I then decided to discretely-- as discretely as any person can that has 'PRESS' around their neck -- stand in the corner and people watch.

It became clear that I was a minority. The largest percentage of the people here were BlackBerry employees. I was totally outnumbered. So were they staff? Why were they here? I recognised a few as regional PR managers. Almost all of them had BlackBerry Passports.

That's when I started to get a bit scared.

blackberry passport

I stood and watched for a few more minutes and politely rejected my fifth offer of a miniature beef wellington before we were led into the auditorium. By this point the number of journalists had increased slightly but we were still vastly outnumbered by large swathes of suits, ties and BlackBerry Passports.

I started to wonder if I had in fact turned up at the wrong event. I mean BlackBerry had already revealed the phone online, everyone here had the phone, so surely this can't then be the launch event for that very same phone?

It turned out that it was. So resigning myself to an eternity of confusion I sat down.

Five minutes before the presentation started the projectors sprung into life and displayed an important legal notice, a 'Safe Harbour' statement

Companies often show 'Safe Harbour Statements in order to protect themselves from making claims they can't back up but I've never seen one so prominently displayed. It's a testament to the trying times BlackBerry has been through that even now it was looking to cover all its bases.

blackberry passport

The music finally kicked into gear and BlackBerry's COO Marty Beard came onto the stage to reveal the future of the company.

It was a bold pitch and Marty cut straight to the chase:

"People ask 'Are you getting out of the mobile business?' and to those people I say this is simply not the case, we began rolling out the Z3 smartphone in May, and we now have the BlackBerry Passport and the future Classic. And I can confirm that Blackberry is not dropping the phone business, quite the contrary."

blackhttps://editorial.huffingtonpost.com/entry/?entry_id=5881044berry passport

He was calm, measured and very sure of his words. it was an impressive start that was only slightly marred by the fact I still wasn't sure why this event was happening.

Beard then announced the phone, there was polite applause from the audience. Beard and a colleague then ran through all the things we'd seen on BlackBerry's website.

Every point is business-focused. EVERY point. They state that the speakers are the best on any smartphone, perfect for making handsfree conference calls. The screen is beautiful and big, perfect for reading emails and scrolling through huge white papers. They turn to the keyboard, the keys are now also a trackpad allowing you to easily flick through emails and select text.

This isn't a consumer phone.

blackberry passport launch

They finally turn to apps, proudly announcing that Amazon apps are available on BlackBerry. This seemed more like it, they had pictures of Candy Crush and Angry Birds up on the screen. I'm looking forward to finally getting Instagram on a BlackBerry or using iPlayer like a normal person.

That wasn't what the company had in store. Instead we were given two business demos, the first on an app that allows you to evaluate the safety procedures on an oil rig, and the second was an app that allowed you to accurately see hospital X-Rays.

I'm neither an engineer or a doctor so sadly these demonstrations were largely lost on me.

blackberry passport

Then it was over. So what did I think? Well, I got the distinct impression that I probably wasn't supposed to be there. Of course normally I would be, it's BlackBerry, I'm a technology journalist. It makes sense. This isn't the BlackBerry that I wrote about over a year ago though.

This is a very old BlackBerry. It's BlackBerry back to its roots as a company that knows where its customer base is and it isn't in the hundreds of millions, it might not even be in the tens of millions. But that's OK. For men in suits.