Why BlackBerry isn't dead

BlackBerry might be a write-off in the consumer market but its work with the Mercedes F1 Team is a demonstration of how it wins at enterprise.

Although BlackBerry is struggling in the smartphone market from a consumer point of view, the Canadian firm is still going thanks to its enterprise solutions and customers. Here's why BlackBerry isn't dead, using the Mercedes F1 Team as a case study. See also: Best smartphones 2014.

It seems like an age since teenagers were obsesses with BlackBerrys and BBM and it's easy to turn your nose up at any new product, especially when it's as odd as the new Passport. I've personally written BlackBerry off a few times (at least on the consumer side) and expected it to be dead and buried by now.

The reality is that while the Passport and BlackBerry OS 10 might no longer be a good option for your average smartphone user, these products and the firm's infrastructure is a necessity.

BlackBerry announced its sponsorship with the Mercedes F1 Team early last year – interestingly way before the team's dominant season even started. So, both were companies aiming to catch up with rivals.

We were lucky enough to be invited to the Mercedes factory in Brackley where BlackBerry and members of the team explained how the smartphone maker is far more than just a sponsor who gets some nice decals on the car.

The Mercedes F1 Team uses more than 200 BlackBerrys including Blackberry Z10s, Q10s, Z30s and Passports. It's these along with BlackBerry Enterprise Sever 10 (BES10) which seem integral to the day-to-day running of the business.

This is a technical partnership which is on the opposite end of the scale to BlackBerry's cringe-worthy exercise of having Alicia Keys as a 'creative director'. See: The 5 worst, funniest and most cringe worthy press conference moments ever.

BlackBerry Passport replaces MacBook

Far from reading lines to promote BlackBerry, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Toto Wolff, told us genuinely how his BlackBerrys (plural) are critical to his daily job and personal life. We say plural because Toto has, in fact, got three devices.

His new Passport has, in his own words, "replaced my MacBook" because of its performance, screen and keyboard. He also has a business BlackBerry and a personal one which is an old-school 97 series running old software which Matt Harris, IT director at Mercedes, is desperate to get him off and on to a newer model.

Clocking up more than 1,000 hours of flying (not total travel time), Wolff relies on his devices as a portable office and so do many other team members – whether they are travelling to the track or simply their home. F1 is a business of constant evolution and the team's facility runs 24/7 so connectivity is paramount.

Toto Wolff BlackBerry Passport

"As I look around the business I can see everyone around me using BlackBerry devices," said Paddy Lowe, Technical Executive Director at Mercedes. "That's another step towards seamless integration between the office and the track."

We're told that the team uses BBM a large amount and in a number of different ways to communicate so it's not all email. In one case Harris resorted to using BBM Video to talk a couple of technicians though procedures as they hadn't travelled to the track in a long time.

Security is paramount

There are, of course, obstacles including security as Mercedes don't want information about next year's car, for example, to be obtained. "For us as a business, security is as important as the performance of the car, because otherwise we give away that performance to other people," said Harris.

These guys love their BlackBerrys so much that many of them don't even have a personal phone alongside. Harris explained that even he doesn't need to worry as the personal and work sides of the operating system are kept completely separate – copy and paste between them is blocked.

BES10, which has tens of thousands of servers installed globally, provides encryption so the team doesn't need to worry as it goes about its job of making the car faster.

"In my job, I’m going to a race typically every two weeks, so it’s absolutely vital to have something that I can rely on and to know whatever I send through it or receive is being handled securely," said Lowe.

Wolff added that he "wouldn't want to take the risk of using an unsecure phone".

BES10 also supports other operating systems and in this case, Mercedes does use a few iPads but doesn't opt for Android due its more shaky security, according to Harris.

BlackBerry may have lost the consumer market to the big guns like Apple and Google but its enterprise side is the backbone which it needs to keep going. It's no wonder a company like Lenovo is tipped to buy the firm.

The Mercedes F1 Team is just one case study of how a company replies on its products and solution. BlackBerry is the chosen mobile provider for the G7 governments and has received more than 50 government certifications.