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BlackBerry courts business users again

BlackBerry (BBRY) is no longer trying to out-iPhone the iPhone. The device maker found it spectacularly difficult to compete against the likes of Apple (AAPL) and Samsung, and has abandoned its strategy to grab more of the consumer market.

Now, BlackBerry is going after the business users who were once its most enthusiastic and loyal customers. It's betting that an unusual device called the Passport can help it regain traction in the corporate world.

The Passport will go on sale Wednesday for $599. That's the price without subsidies, and users may get the phone at a cheaper price if they agree to a multiyear contract from mobile carriers.

The new phone certainly stands out in the crowd, mostly because of its 4.5-inch square screen and physical keyboard. The Passport is shorter and much wider than the new iPhone 6 (one Twitter user noted that it's a bit broader than a Kellogg's Pop-Tart).

The expansive screen size can display 60 characters of text on each line, which will make it easier to read documents and Excel charts. The downside is that the Passport won't easily fit into a pocket. The company says it can run for a whopping 36 hours on a single charge.

BlackBerry hopes the Passport's size will be an advantage, particularly for people in the medical field or other sectors where they need to easily navigate text-heavy screens. Passport is trying to ride that tricky territory between smartphones and tablets, and it might directly compete with Samsung's Galaxy Note 4, expected out in October, or Apple's larger iPhone 6 Plus.

Leading BlackBerry's new marketing focus is CEO John Chen, who took over the struggling company less than a year ago. After watching a flashy line of BlackBerry 10 models fail to take hold with consumers last year, Chen turned his attention back to the business market, saying users will want more security and identity protection in this era of sophisticated hacking attempts on corporate networks.

However, the question that continues to haunt Chen is: Are his efforts simply too late in a mobile world dominated by Google's (GOOG) Android and Apple's iOS?

The Passport is a "good phone, but it will never really hit the mainstream as a premium offering," Daniel Pang, a researcher with IDC Malaysia, told The Wall Street Journal. "Most consumers are too invested in other platforms."

Chen is betting that plenty of business users aren't yet so heavily invested.

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