Crowd in BlackBerry's birthplace cheers as new generation finally revealed

WATERLOO, Ont. – Research In Motion’s hometown celebrated the launch of the new Blackberry 10 phones Wednesday as one of the tech-savvy region’s biggest accomplishments yet.

More than 150 politicians, entrepreneurs and business people filled a hall in the building of a local technology association to watch a live video stream of RIM chief executive Thorsten Heins as he made a glitzy, Steve Jobs-style presentation of the new flagship product in New York City.

The crowd let out a roar as Heins flashed the smartphones, seen as make-or-break devices for the company — a major employer in the Waterloo region.

They also cheered and applauded when RIM’s new name — BlackBerry — was announced, although not quite as loudly.

The event kicked off a day of planned celebrations in Waterloo and neighbouring Kitchener, which have both strung up BlackBerry street pole banners marking the launch.

Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr hailed the BlackBerry 10 as a “game changer” that will boost sales for the embattled smartphone pioneer.

“It’s gone through its difficult times, but we’ve stuck by it and I think that they have come up with something that is going to blow people’s minds,” said Zehr, who will be among the first to get one of the sleek new touchscreen phones next week.

Zehr said he’s not concerned for the future of the Kitchener-Waterloo silicon corridor if the new phones prove a flop. The region, he noted, is not just about one company. Some 1,000 high-tech businesses — from humble start-ups to Google — have set up shop in the area, he said.

“There are other technology firms that are becoming anchors in their own way.”

Entrepreneur Josh Wright, who took a break from online work-sharing start-up Marmot Labs to watch the unveiling, said there are a bundle of programs and agencies working to help tech projects go from dorm-room tinkering to venture-capital funding.

“RIM was a 20-year success story. Imagine in 20 years if all these start-up companies grow to the size of RIM? It’s going to be quite a vibrant place.”

For residents not knee-deep in cutting edge technology, the BlackBerry launch was a moment to reflect on the ties the company once known as RIM has with the local community.

Home restorer Tony Katic, who has friends working for the company, said what’s good for BlackBerry is good for everyone in Kitchener-Waterloo.

“Its success is our success. I hope it does well.”

The BlackBerry Z10, a touchscreen model, will hit the shelves next Tuesday while the BlackBerry Q10, which will have a physical keyboard, will follow in April — a move that was signalled last year by the company.