BlackBerry Betting That Square Will Be Hip

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To say that BlackBerry has cruised a rough road in recent years is a major understatement: Not only did the company witness its market-share decimated at the combined hands of Google and Apple, but its highest-profile attempt to reverse that decline—BlackBerry 10 OS—underperformed with businesses and consumers.

In a bid to stave off total collapse, BlackBerry retrenched as a niche IT firm focused primarily on the enterprise. But the company hasn’t wholly abandoned its once-ubiquitous mobile devices: Not only has it continued to produce cheaper BlackBerry smartphones for developing markets, but it plans on releasing what’s probably the oddest-looking handheld to hit store-shelves in quite some time.

It’s called the BlackBerry Passport. And it’s square-shaped.

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“We’ve been living in a rectangular world for quite some time and know it’s a great ergonomic design that drives content, media consumption, and quick communications,” read a new posting about the device on BlackBerry’s official blog. “However, the rectangle has become a de facto approach to smartphone design, perhaps limiting innovations.”

Which innovations? BlackBerry claims that, according to “academic research,” the “optimal number of characters on a line in a book is 66 characters.” Whereas a rectangular smartphone might display 40-or-so characters, the BlackBerry Passport’s extra screen real estate will give it the ability to “show 60 characters.” Whether or not you subscribe to that idea—surely the iPhone 5S in landscape mode is capable of displaying more than 40 characters if the font is small enough—the Passport may eliminate concerns over whether you should hold your phone in landscape or portrait mode to view content; thanks to its unusual shape, the user can hold the device pretty much any which way they please without cutting off the edge of a spreadsheet or document.

In that vein, BlackBerry positions the Passport as ideal for architects, healthcare workers, and financial people who need to look at designs, medical documentation, spreadsheets, and more without a lot of flicking and pinching and swiping. “The Passport is like the IMAX of productivity,” the official blog posting added, “and you don’t have to sacrifice screen real estate, vertically or horizontally.”

It seems unlikely, however, that an oddly shaped BlackBerry device will radically alter the smartphone landscape. Indeed, a large, square screen could prevent users from doing two simple things: using one hand to type or make phone calls, and fitting their phone in a pants pocket.

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