BlackBerry Blend wins plaudits as Passport grabs headlines

By Reuters

Sep 25, 2014 11:41 PM EDT

BlackBerry Ltd's launch of its square-screened Passport device may have grabbed headlines this week, but it was the tech company's lower-profile roll out of the new Blend feature that appears to be garnering the plaudits.

Even as reviewers and analysts were torn on the prospects of the unconventionally shaped Passport, they were brimming with praise for Blend, which lets users seamlessly bridge messaging and content between a host of devices irrespective of operating systems.

"While the new Passport device attracted the most attention, to us the announcement of BlackBerry Blend is more important," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Sue in a note on Thursday.

He noted that Blend is one of the key elements of a strategy aimed at adapting to the needs of large companies, where workers are pushing for flexibility to use devices of their own choice.

BlackBerry, under the leadership of new Chief Executive John Chen, has been altering its focus. Chen wants BlackBerry to be a competitor in the smartphone arena, but is also building on its strengths in areas like mobile data security and mobile device management.

"Blend underpins BlackBerry's enterprise strategy," said RBC's Sue, noting that recent acquisitions give BlackBerry a further boost in the enterprise market.

Earlier this month, BlackBerry acquired Movirtu a U.K.-based mobile technology start-up whose software allows users to have multiple phone numbers on the same device. This followed its acquisition of voice and data encryption firm Secusmart in July.

The Blend system allows a user to get message notifications, read and respond to work and personal email, text and other messages, while also accessing files, calendars, contacts and other media, on whatever device one is using.

The system works across operating systems including Apple's Mac OS, Microsoft's Windows platform and tablets powered by Google's Android software.

Scotiabank analyst Daniel Chan said he sees the software as a unique product that could allow developers to build Blend functionality into their mobile apps.

"Blend has the potential to turn into a secure communication gateway to all the devices in users' lives," Chan wrote in a note, adding it could turn into a revenue stream as BlackBerry would charge service fees for access to corporate data.

Other analysts were also upbeat about the new feature.

"This could bring considerable appeal to enterprise users who use different platforms on multiple devices, yet want to quickly access email, text, calendar, etc," said Cormark's Richard Tse.

Attention is now focused on BlackBerry's quarterly results on Friday, which will give shareholders a sense of the progress being made in BlackBerry's turnaround efforts.

The volatile stock was down 2.5 percent in midday trading on Thursday, after closing roughly flat on Wednesday, following the launch of Passport and Blend.

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