KeyOne launch

KITCHENER — About a dozen people are now working in the Tannery building in downtown Kitchener for the Chinese electronics giant that makes BlackBerry-branded smartphones.

The team at BlackBerry Mobile, which is owned by TCL Communication, unveiled its first smartphone Thursday. The phone, dubbed the KeyOne, is a large-screen device that uses the latest Android operating system, Nougat, and features a QWERTY keyboard.

“It is not just a business device,” said Bruce Walpole, general manager of BlackBerry Mobile North America.

“People are busy in their personal lives too, so we needed a device that could easily move from your personal life to your business life, and back and forth, daily, minute-by-minute,” said Walpole.

KeyOne will be in stores May 31. But on Thursday, it was announced that Rogers Communications is taking preorders for $199 on a two-year contract.

Last December, BlackBerry signed a licensing agreement with TCL Communication, a Chinese electronics manufacturer headquartered in Huizhou, in the province of Guangdong. After that multi-year agreement was signed, TCL established BlackBerry Mobile to market and sell the devices.

During the past few months, Walpole and 11 other people who used to work for BlackBerry in Waterloo moved to space in the Tannery building to work for BlackBerry Mobile. They work in sales, marketing and engineering.

“We are excited,” said Walpole.

Under the licensing agreement, TCL makes the phones while BlackBerry Ltd. in Waterloo provides the operating system and security software. TCL puts the BlackBerry operating system and software inside its hardware when making the phones.