BlackBerry has been talking about refocusing on business users since last year, even before John Chen took over as CEO. Chen has made it clear he supports the plan, discussing a strategy of going after highly regulated industries and cutting ties with consumer-focused T-Mobile.
BlackBerry's bizarre square phone shows that while the company is indeed focusing on business users, it doesn't understand what business users want today.
In a blog post, the company showed an image for the first time of the Passport, a new phone that's 4.5 inches square. "We've been living in a rectangular world for quite some time," BlackBerry's Matt Young wrote in the post.
The phone is designed to offer a better viewing experience than a traditional rectangular phone because the width allows for 60 characters -- close to the optimal number of characters on a line in a book, Young said. "No more worrying about portrait or landscape modes," he wrote.
He suggested that architects and mortgage brokers will use the phone to look at full designs and schematics. Doctors will use it to view x-rays with patients. Wall Street types will like using their trading apps on the device.
What BlackBerry ignores, however, is that most people want one phone that they can use in the office, at home, and out and about town. And nobody is going to want to carry the Passport outside of the office.
There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that it's just ugly. The sharp edges and square form look entirely utilitarian. There's nothing at all sexy about this phone.
Also, those sharp edges and wide form make it unlikely to fit in most pockets. This isn't a phone to grab as you run out on a quick errand.
If people want a small device that they'll exclusively use in the office, they're more likely to gravitate toward a small tablet. For the applications that BlackBerry describes for the Passport, users don't need a phone. An Internet-connected tablet is a much better choice.
The iPad Mini, for instance, is just enough bigger than the Passport to offer a better viewing experience. Users don't expect to be able to slip it into a pocket. Workers may leave it behind in the office overnight or carry it home in their bag. Plus, it has the benefit of being a nice device for lounging around at home -- more convenient than a laptop, easier to read than a phone.
While a few people commenting on the Passport blog post seemed excited about it, this isn't the phone to turn around BlackBerry.