BlackBerry plans more smartphones with unconventional designs

BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) plans to release more devices that are differentiated in their design, along the lines of its new Passport phone, which sports a square 4.5-inch screen and a physical Qwerty keyboard.

Ron Louks, the president of BlackBerry's devices and emerging-solutions unit, told Reuters that now that the company has cut down on its losses, the firm can afford to take some risks and perhaps release at least one "unconventional" device each year.

"When it comes to design and being a little bit disruptive, we want that 'wow' factor," he said. "Not all of the products will have it, but we definitely have opportunities." BlackBerry is already working on another device with an unusual design and said BlackBerry has already received some positive feedback from carriers on it.

The Passport is aimed squarely at the enterprise market, and the company has said that its screen is ideal for viewing documents and spreadsheets. Users can type on the Passport's keyboard to enter text, or they can swipe across it to navigate through the device. Some reviewers have praised the phone's design and long battery life, while others have dinged its keyboard as gimmicky and as being unwieldy to hold with one hand.

Louks indicated that BlackBerry was working on a prototype that would be easier to operate with a single hand. "From a roadmap perspective, I'm pretty happy with where we are at for next year," he said, adding that he also expected demand for the Passport to exceed expectations.

BlackBerry said last week that it received 200,000 orders for its new Passport smartphone, the first major smartphone release from the company since 2013. BlackBerry CEO John Chen said the new phone, announced earlier this week, sold out in six hours on BlackBerry's website and in 10 hours on Amazon's site. He said the company has now sold enough Passport smartphones to make the device profitable, according to Bloomberg.

Chen told reporters on Friday after BlackBerry reported quarterly earnings that the company is likely to show new devices at the 2015 Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona. "Given the receptivity for the Passport, I know that we'll have at least another generation of that device," Chen said, according to Reuters. "I also carry very high hopes for the Classic, and I've spoken with a lot of people that want it ... so I think we will have another iteration on that, and there will be a new concept device too."

The BlackBerry Classic, which sports a physical keyboard similar to the company's iconic Bold smartphone, will be released later this year.

Still, despite the enthusiasm BlackBerry executives have for the firm's devices business, the company is still catching up. BlackBerry reported a net loss of $207 million for its latest quarter, notably smaller than the $965 million net loss it recorded in the corresponding period a year ago. However, the company's quarterly revenue fell over 40 percent year-over-year, to around $916 million, below Wall Street expectations of $950 million. Nonetheless, the company continues to target break-even cash-flow financials by the end of this year.

For more:
- see this Reuters article

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