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Apple opens store on RIM's home turf Add to ...

Waterloo is one of the smallest Canadian cities in which Apple has opened a store, but you wouldn’t know it from its opening day lineup.

More than 200 people waited in line Saturday morning for the official opening of the company’s newest Canadian store in Waterloo, located in Conestoga Mall, just a 10-minute drive from RIM headquarters.

That’s roughly the same number of people who lined up outside one of Apple’s downtown Toronto stores last year to be the among the first to buy the company’s new iPad. Only this time, there were no new products on offer.

Some of the people who showed up simply came for the experience – Apple store openings are typically raucous events with staff high-fiving customers, cheering and whistling. Others were drawn by the promise of free T-shirts Apple handed out to the first 1,000 people to enter the store.

One Waterloo woman spent the night waiting outside Conestoga Mall so she could be first in line, while dozens of others joined her as dawn broke. By 9:30 a.m., when the store opened, more than 200 people were standing in a winding line, many of them thumbing iPhones or browsing on iPads.

Peggy Maassen, 50, showed up at 6:15 a.m. holding a homemade Apple Store Opening Kit, including a schedule for the day and a map of the mall, created by her 13-year-old nephew for the occasion.

“He’s an Apple fanatic,” she said, adding he was too excited to sleep the night before.

Roger Westlake, who works for a machine tool manufacturer, said it was only a matter of time before Apple made its mark in the area. “We’ve been expecting an Apple store here because of the population,” he said.

Until the weekend, Apple fans from southwestern Ontario were stuck travelling to Mississauga or Toronto when they wanted to shop in-person or bring products in to be fixed.

“Why not open a store in Waterloo?” asked Raymond Pirouz, who teaches new media marketing at the University of Western Ontario’s business school.

“There are a lot of high-paid employees and students at the University of Waterloo. It’s like Canada’s MIT, so it makes sense for a tech leader and innovator to have a presence in the area.”

Still, he noted, the timing of the store’s opening might sting a little for RIM, which has watched its fortunes decline in recently as consumers migrate to Apple and other smart phones that use Google’s Android operating system. Last month, the company announced it would cut 2,000 jobs globally this year, including some in Waterloo.

RIM’s PlayBook, designed to compete with Apple’s iPad, launched in April to mediocre reviews, and has failed to gain much traction in the tablet market since. Last week, Sprint confirmed it had cancelled plans to carry the latest version of the PlayBook on its high-speed network, prompting speculation that demand may not be strong enough to support the product.

Mr. Pirouz said it’s up to RIM to find a way to bring customers back into the fold. “It’s not as much about Apple as it is about RIM. How are they going to take the next step, and is the next step going to get them where they need to be?”

This month, RIM introduced its new BlackBerry 7 line up, three new phones the company says offer faster browsing capability, enhanced graphics and ramped up social networking tools.

Kevin Woods, who works for a Waterloo mortgage company and was in line to see the Apple store open, said he sympathizes with the BlackBerry maker. “I want to see them do well. They created all kinds of jobs for the region, and they really did a good job of putting us on the map.”

But that didn’t stop him from joining the line Saturday morning to check out the new Apple store. “You have to think there’s a big enough market out there for both products,” he said.

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