Virtual keys, physical keys, Alicia Keys – if there’s anything missing from BlackBerry 10, you’d be hard-pressed to name it after the all-new smartphone platform was unveiled, at long last, in New York on Wednesday.

In doing so, CEO Thorsten Heins also unveiled a new era for the company formerly known as RIM, whose name has been officially changed to BlackBerry in line with the brand recognition Research In Motion’s core product enjoys around the world.

The change will no doubt take some getting used to here in Waterloo Region, where RIM was born 29 years ago, and where its blue-and-white logo became an increasingly ubiquitous sight as the company grew.

But change should be neither new nor daunting to those who have been pulling for the company during all that time, particularly through its tough transition over the past two years. About 250 of those people gathered at the Tannery Event Centre in Kitchener to celebrate Wednesday’s launch.

Not unexpectedly, the mood was upbeat and the applause frequent as Heins and members of his team put BB10 through its paces in a live broadcast from New York. But, before they did so, Heins acknowledged how challenging the transition has been, and how his employees rose to the occasion.

“The people at RIM have been at their most creative, their most engaged and their most committed,” he said. “I really would like to take this moment to thank our employees, and to congratulate you on your accomplishments. BlackBerry 10 is here.”

Heins pointed out, however, that BB10 is only the beginning for a company that has been transformed “inside and out” after much “heartfelt and sometimes really brutal honesty, with ourselves and others.”

“Today is actually not the finish line; it’s the starting line,” he said, describing how BlackBerry 10 was built from the ground up for “people who are hyperconnected socially, people who have an appetite for getting things done, the true multitaskers, and people who want to get the most out of their smartphones.”

‘The most’ is an apt description for what BB10 is poised to deliver when the all-touch Z10 device goes on sale Feb. 5 in Canada, followed by the physical-keyboard Q10 in April. New York Times tech columnist David Pogue was among commentators who, with some contrition, were left singing a more positive tune about BlackBerry after getting their hands on a device.

Among key BB10 features:

–       A virtual keyboard on touchscreen devices that facilitates what Heins calls “writing without typing,” due to its robust predictive-text function, and ability to adapt to the user’s typing technique and word-use patterns

–       Easy, gesture-based flow between applications and messaging, without the need to shut down apps to deal with incoming e-mails, texts or social feeds

–       The BlackBerry Hub, where all messages and feeds are displayed, which can be “peeked” into while doing other things on the device

–       An appointment function that pulls in and displays relevant information about all attendees at upcoming meetings

–       Expanded capabilities for BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), including free video and voice chat, and screen-sharing that enables multiple users to view the same content

–       The addition of popular apps such as Skype, Amazon Kindle, WhatsApp, SAP and Angry Birds to a stable of 70,000 BlackBerry 10 apps to launch in an all-new BlackBerry World store

–       Multi-language support that allows users to switch between languages when typing

–       BlackBerry Balance, which turns BB10 into two virtual devices, one for work and one for personal use

–       A native make-your-own movie app called BlackBerry Story Maker, which incorporates pictures, video, music and titles

–       A camera that includes a Time Shift function that isolates faces and allows for adjustments slightly back or forward in time to ensure open eyes and smiles, and comes with a suite of photo editing tools

–       BlackBerry Remember, a place to gather various pieces of content (web links, e-mails, notes, photos, voice memos) in one place

After Heins’s hands-on demo with BlackBerry software chief Vivek Bhardwaj, and Martyn Mallick, the company’s vice-president of global alliances and business development (and Communitech board member), he surprised all by announcing a sparkling addition to his executive team: Alicia Keys, the multi-Grammy-winning singer and songwriter, who will serve as BlackBerry’s global creative director.

Keys will head up BlackBerry’s new Keep Moving Projects, working with app developers, artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers to enhance BlackBerry 10’s content offerings.

The announcement sent a fresh wave of buzz through the Tannery Event Centre, as invited guests wondered if and when they might bump into Ms. Keys in Waterloo (we’ll keep you posted if we hear anything on that).

In the meantime, everyone seemed to enjoy a long exhale after what’s been a long and twisting journey to the unveiling.

Communitech CEO Iain Klugman, who waved his BlackBerry Z10 before an envious crowd during his welcoming remarks, lauded BlackBerry after the show for executing such a solid debut for the new platform.

“They did a great job at leaking enough to get people excited, and at saving some really exciting parts to be part of the launch,” Klugman said.

“I think what really blew me away was the fact that they’ve got 70,000 apps already developed for this thing,” he continued. “And it truly is not just a different platform and a different product; it is a different company. Alec Saunders (RIM’s VP for developer relations) and Marty Mallick have changed the culture and the relationship that exists between BlackBerry and the developer community.”

John Milloy, MPP for Kitchener Centre and Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, called BlackBerry 10 a “phenomenal product” that stands not only to boost the fortunes of BlackBerry the company, but of Waterloo Region the community.

And that community, he said, is unique in a way that helped BlackBerry become the company it is, and through its success, spur the success of countless other technology entrepreneurs.

“It’s the fact that everyone reaches out and helps each other to succeed,” Milloy said. “And I know there are out-and-out competitors here, but you never get that sense; you get the sense that people realize that if one part of the ecosystem prospers, the rest will.”

Kitchener Coun. Berry Vrbanovic said the innovation built into BlackBerry 10 and the reinvention of the company behind it shows “that we’re still at the forefront of Canadian technology, and I’m convinced that this is only going to help our community continue to develop as a tech hub in Canada.”

Vrbanovic said he was struck by how BlackBerry “really rethought everything in terms of how people use a smartphone. All the things that people have talked about, ‘Geez, I wish my smartphone could do this-and-that,’ they’ve incorporated that now into BlackBerry 10.”

Judging by the response at the Tannery event, BlackBerry should make sure local retailers are fully stocked with devices come Feb. 5.