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John Chen, chief executive officer of BlackBerry Ltd., speaks on a Passport smartphone during a Bloomberg Television interview at a product announcement in Toronto on Sept. 24. (Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg)
John Chen, chief executive officer of BlackBerry Ltd., speaks on a Passport smartphone during a Bloomberg Television interview at a product announcement in Toronto on Sept. 24. (Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg)

BlackBerry Passport demand has exceeded expectations, Chen says Add to ...

It’s a good thing that some people can’t buy BlackBerry Ltd.’s Passport phone, Chief Executive Officer John Chen said. That means it’s popular.

Shortages of the business-focused smartphone show that efforts to turn around the money-losing company, formerly known as Research In Motion Ltd., are taking hold, Mr. Chen told an MIT Enterprise Forum event Friday in Hong Kong. Demand for the phone - the first device released since Mr. Chen took charge in November - has exceeded the Canadian company’s expectations.

“I’m glad to have inventory issues. It shows that people want the phone,” said Chen, 59. “We took a very conservative approach and didn’t order too many.”

In his attempt to return the company to profitability by 2016, Mr. Chen is focusing on products such as the BlackBerry Blend feature that appeals to corporate customers because it helps them merge work and personal information. BlackBerry’s smartphone shipments sank to 13.7-million units last year from 52.3 million in 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, as it struggled to compete with touch-screen devices produced by Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.

’Being Sexy’

The Passport sold 200,000 units in the first two days, selling out in six hours on BlackBerry’s website and within 10 hours on Amazon.com. The square-shaped smartphone is designed for business users who write e-mails, study spreadsheets and read documents on their phones.

BlackBerry was focused on the 30 per cent of the market that sees their phones as a tool, not as an entertainment portal, Mr. Chen said. “That is not a space that we can afford to be in now. Being sexy and being a workhorse are two different things,” he said.

Mr. Chen, a Hong Kong native, said he doesn’t yet have a strategy for expanding into China. The company got 16 per cent of its sales from the Asia-Pacific region during the fiscal year that ended in March, compared with 19 per cent from the U.S., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Mr. Chen said he hopes to get ideas when he attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing next month, his first trip to the country as CEO.

“China is too big a market to ignore,” Mr. Chen said. “It is clear that BlackBerry needs to and should be in that market.”

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