Why BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins is both right and wrong about tablets
Reading BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins' predictions for the future of computing feels a lot like reading the script to a particularly ludicrous, tech-focused episode of "The Colbert Report" or "The Daily Show," except, unlike the hosts of those shows, Heins isn't in on the joke.
“In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore,” Heins told Bloomberg. “Maybe a big screen in your workspace, but not a tablet as such. Tablets themselves are not a good business model.” This is a thing that the CEO of a once-dominant mobile company actually said, unless Bloomberg is omitting the part where Heins burst into laughter and said that he was "totes kidding."
Here's the thing about Heins' claim about the tablet market: He is both absolutely right and unequivocally wrong, depending on what you consider the tablet market and what a BlackBerry tablet might look like.
The "tablet market" as a category is expected to surpass the desktop market in 2013, and the notebook market in 2014, according to the IDC. The prediction follows a strong 2012, when tablet shipments experienced 78.4 percent year-over-year growth. Heins' argument is looking awfully bad due to just one report -- and it gets worse.
And, even if the tablet market were really just the "iPad market," as it was after the product was introduced in 2010, things would still look pretty cheery. Apple nearly doubled the number of iPads shipped during the second quarter of 2013 (over 19 million) compared to the year-ago quarter. The product -- category, really, with the introduction of the iPad mini -- is growing increasingly popular, leading some to predict that iPad sales could outpace iPhone sales as early as 2015.
So, no, the "tablet market" doesn't seem to be in much danger. Unless an allergic reaction to glass, aluminum, and plastic suddenly spreads across the entire world -- which sounds like the plot for a particularly bad M. Night Shyamalan film -- tablets are poised to become more popular, not less.
But, at the same time, Heins might be right to identify the tablet market as a poor place for businesses not named Apple or Samsung to compete in the next five years -- especially if they happen to be named BlackBerry. Apple and Samsung have already seized the smartphone market, with the two companies controlling most of the industry's marketshare, revenues, and profits -- it wouldn't be a surprise for them do the same with tablets.
Combine that with BlackBerry's lackluster entry into the tablet market, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and Heins doesn't seem (quite so) crazy. The PlayBook was universally panned by critics, with Engadget, PC Magazine, and Ars Technica all taking issue with various aspects of the device, from its wanting ecosystem to the fact that it shipped without an email client. Bloomberg notes that the company sold fewer than 150,000 PlayBooks in the third quarter of 2012. The first, and seemingly only, BlackBerry tablet was a flop.
As for Heins' prediction that there won't be a reason to own a tablet within five years? Let's file that one away with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's dismissal of the iPhone back in 2007. We've seen how well that view has served Microsoft; now we'll have the chance to see how pleased Heins is with his prediction in 2018.