Blackberry 10 launch a matter of national pride for Canadians
Company to unveil new operating system Wednesday
WATERLOO, Ont. • Andrew MacLeod admits to having some opening night jitters.
It was one day last October, and Research In Motion Ltd.’s managing director for Canada was preparing to take the stage in front of 800 people at a packed conference being held the Sheraton Centre hotel in downtown Toronto.
For MacLeod, it was the first stop on a whirlwind cross-country tour that would take him to seven cities in an effort to show off some of the features of RIM’s forthcoming BlackBerry 10 platform to Canadians.
It was the first time he would be demonstrating some of those features. After the rough two years RIM has struggled through, he didn’t know how people were going to react.
“We had people coming up to us when we got off stage and high fiving us,” MacLeod recalled during an interview at RIM’s campus in Waterloo.
“It was the first one, you don’t really know how people are going to react ... we got off stage and people were shaking our hands and saying how glad they are that we’re doing this.
“It really speaks to how BlackBerry and RIM is perceived a little bit differently in Canada.”
Over the past two years, as RIM struggled under the weight of product delays, analyst downgrades and the relentless rise of Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Google Inc.’s Android software, many commenters who wrote off RIM as destined for the dustbin of history drew connections with Canada’s most recent failed technology giant, Nortel Networks Corp.
On Wednesday, RIM will fully unveil BlackBerry 10 and the first two devices in its next generation of smartphones to the world, and across the country, Canadians will be watching to see how the home side fares as it stakes its claim at a comeback on a global scale.
“In the back of our minds there’s a lot of national pride going on here,” said Barry Cross, a lecturer of operations management and technology at the Queen’s University School of Business.
“For all the reasons that Nortel ran into their issues, I think there’s still a real Canadiana perspective on this RIM story and Canadians are still hoping they’ll knock it out of the park and that this is just the first step that gets them back to being, maybe not the biggest player in the industry, but at least a company of prominence that attracts some real attention.”
BlackBerry is one of the most recognizable Canadian brands on an international scale, and RIM’s history is full of uniquely Canadian moments, including former cochief executive Jim Balsillie’s seemingly relentless pursuit of a professional hockey team.
Although RIM officials know that reasserting the BlackBerry brand in the coveted United States smartphone market will be key to the company’s long term success, they also understand the importance of the Canadian market.
“Canada is incredibly important to RIM,” MacLeod said. “It is our home market, but it is also a very strategic market for us. We are very strong here, and I think we have a very unique relationship here with Canadians, that we treat with an endless amount of respect, attention and resources.”
As recently as 2010, RIM was the top smartphone seller in Canada, outselling Apple’s iPhones and all other competitors, according to data from International Data Corp. But in 2011, Apple took over as the top smartphone brand in Canada, and in 2012, Samsung grabbed the No. 2 position, pushing RIM into a distant third. Still, Canada’s wireless carriers are all gearing up for the launch of BlackBerry 10 as they seek to broaden their mobile offerings.
In RIM’s hometown of Waterloo, the company’s influence runs deep. Balsillie and his RIM co-founder Mike Lazaridis have both given generously to local universities and charities, while the company provides thousands of jobs.
“RIM put this community on the map worldwide as a tech centre,” said Iain Klugman, chief executive of the Kitchener-Waterloo technology incubator Communitech.
Around Kitchener-Waterloo, RIM and residents are already gearing up for the company’s moment in the spotlight on Wednesday. Kitchener city council gave the green light to let RIM place BlackBerry banners along city-owned light poles and a series of events, including free skating, has been planned for Wednesday.
“There’s definitely a vested interest for the entire community to see the BlackBerry 10 be successful ... and we see collectively the feeling is that the company is going to turn the corner because the hype already around BB10 is so encouraging,” said Catherine Fife, MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo.
An attendee of the BlackBerry 10 Jam World Tour holds one of the company’s Dev Alpha devices in Waterloo, Ont.