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BlackBerry Argues for a Square-Screened Phone; Are They Right?

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Yesterday, I was having dinner with a friend, one that is definitely a Crackberry addict. Where the NRA says, "From my cold, dead hands," about firearms, she feels the same way about her QWERTY-equipped BlackBerry Q10. I mentioned the company's upcoming devices, specifically the 4.5-inch BlackBerry Passport, a phablet with a square screen and, of course, the QWERTY.

Her response? An unhesitant "When?"

BlackBerry has one fan, at least. But will they gain additional productivity-obsessed fans with their new square screen phone? In a recent blog post, the company sang the virtues of a massive square screen, instead of the otherwise ubiquitous smartphone rectangle.

Do they have a point?

IMAX of Productivity

BlackBerry calls the rectangular smartphone design "entertainment-driven." It's hinting, ever so subtly, that their upcoming massive square-shaped screen is for the other half -- the productivity obsessed types (us lawyers). The company then drives home its point with some statistics:

  • It's 4.5-inch 1,400x1,400 screen is high definition, but, obviously, not rectangular.
  • Academic research shows that the optimal number of characters for readability is 66 per line: the Passport will show 60, while the typical rectangular phone only shows 40.
  • Spreadsheets, financing apps, e-books, and more are viewable without pinching to zoom, or turning your phone sideways.
  • QWERTY keyboard!

And from my own day-to-day experience, this passes the smell test -- skimming quick emails and tweets on my current rectangular slab is great, as is viewing media. But when it comes to productivity, typing in portrait mode is annoying (a narrow touchscreen keyboard means typos), while typing in landscape mode ensures that my keyboard covers the entire screen.

For productivity and law-related tasks, the case for the Passport, at least on paper, is strong.

And Yet, Apps

Who makes square-shaped apps? BlackBerry. And even then, the company also has a line of QWERTY-free rectangular smartphones, presumably targeted at those who prefer to consume, rather than produce content. In it's own app world, it's already fragmented.

One of BlackBerry's greatest hopes for survival is the company's whole-hearted embrace of Android apps in addition to its own: it has tweaked its operating system to run Android apps natively, and will now include the Android App Store by default on all phones.

Boom. The app gap is gone. Except, when we tried running Android apps on the Q10, it was awkward and buggy, in large part because we were running rectangular apps on square screens. Maybe the experience would be more tolerable on a bigger screen, but still -- why release two more square-shaped phones (the Passport and Classic) this year, which will each run apps that don't fit on the screens?

The verdict: Square-shaped might be great for widescreen productivity, but it's awful for app compatibility.

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