President Barack Obama couldn’t bear to part with his BlackBerry. Oprah Winfrey declared it one of her “favorite things.” It could be so addictive that it was nicknamed “the CrackBerry.”
Then came a new generation of competing smartphones, and suddenly the BlackBerry, that game-changing breakthrough in personal connectedness, looks ancient.

Of RIM’s 16,500 remaining employees, 7,500 live in Waterloo, a university town 90 minutes’ drive from Toronto, where everyone seems to know someone who works for RIM.

John Lind says RIM’s impact on his field, commercial real estate, is enormous. “We talk about RIM in hushed tones in this region because no one wants to be negative about it, no one wants to be seen as not on their side,” he said. “But people are saying, ‘What would this region look like without RIM?’”

The decline of the BlackBerry has come shockingly fast. Just five years ago, when the first iPhone came out, few thought it could threaten the BlackBerry. Now Chief Executive Thorsten Heins says his employees “are getting asked all the time, ‘What’s going on with you guys? What happened? I mean RIM is the star of Canada and what happened to you guys? And how bad is it going to go?’”

His think tank was created by RIM’s Balsillie, and he also is a professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo. Balsillie and Lazaridis have together donated more than $400 million to the community. Lazaridis has donated $150 million to the Perimeter Institute for BlackBerrys issued by their employers.

That’s where BlackBerry 10 comes in — delayed but not too late to vie with the new Apple iPhone expected this fall, or so Heins hopes.

“At the end of the day if the product is good you can always come back,” Heins said. “There’s many examples of how that has happened. I’m not that scared about this, frankly.”

Other tech companies have indeed recovered from the ropes. The late Steve Jobs said Apple was less than three months away from bankruptcy when he rejoined it in 1997, and it’s now the world’s most valuable company.