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Who will sell you a BlackBerry Passport????

BlackBerry announced this week that the company was releasing a new updated handset after a long spiral down in the company's device business. The Passport phone is differentiated from other devices in that it is much wider (essentially a square). The famous BlackBerry keyboard is part of this device and the target market is current BlackBerry users looking to upgrade.

Blackberry Passport
Aaron Harris | Reuters

The new shape of the Passport is certainly innovative and shows that the company is not afraid to take a risk when it comes to releasing new devices. But despite the differentiation of a physical keyboard and wider screen (assuming you don't just rotate your Galaxy or iPhone on its side), specs on the device still lag competitors. It's hard to see how this device will do anything to stem the handset erosion we currently see playing out year after year in BlackBerry market share. Being different is certainly bold but different is not the only thing that matters. Being better is what is key and the new handset will run against stiff competition.

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Here is a critical issue that will be a challenge in selling this new BlackBerry device to consumers that cannot be overlooked. Traditionally, handset sales have been driven by wireless carriers such as Verizon and AT&T. Device companies advertise their products and combine these efforts with wireless carriers' marketing clout in an attempt to spur demand. I find it hard to believe that wireless carriers will spend much of their marketing resources on promoting BlackBerry products when other device companies are releasing innovative devices with significantly higher specs.

Consumers will wander into wireless carriers looking for devices. Do we really think that the typical sales associate in a wireless carrier showroom is going to steer the purchaser towards a BlackBerry product? I doubt this will be the case. Because they will not have marketing scale, BlackBerry will have to rely on direct sales to companies and institutions. Will the passion from institutional buyers be strong enough to justify the cost of upgrading older devices?


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BlackBerry faces a marketing and distribution bottleneck. The marketing budget of BlackBerry is minuscule compared to Samsung, Microsoft, and Apple. Businesses, still wrestling with the financial challenges from the Great Recession likely will not be motivated to replace devices that are currently working well enough. How many businesses have upgraded to Windows 8?

The chasm between the Passport and buyers is wide and it will be difficult to bridge the gap. The company states that BlackBerry's turnaround is not predicated on this product being successful. The key for the company according to BlackBerry is focusing on the enterprise-services division. They are clear that if the Passport is not a success, they will kill it.

I believe this product is going to fall on deaf ears in the marketplace and is not going to make much of a difference for this once proud wireless company. A turnaround may occur at BlackBerry but I don't believe it will be because of the Passport phone.

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Commentary by Michael A. Yoshikami, the CEO and founder of Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California. He is also a CNBC contributor.

Disclaimer: Destination Wealth Management buys Apple for its client portfolios. Neither Michael Yoshikami nor Destination Wealth Management own any of the other stocks mentioned.

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