BlackBerry CEO supposedly says dumb things about the future of tablets, but what are the smart things?

BlackBerry CEO supposedly says dumb things about tablets, media misses bigger discussion about the future of computing

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins was quoted today as saying tablets didn't have much of a future, product or market-wise. Given the huge, and still growing success of the iPad, even the idea sounds ridiculous. Here's what Bloomberg posted:

"In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore,” Heins said in an interview yesterday at the Milken Institute conference in Los Angeles. “Maybe a big screen in your workspace, but not a tablet as such. Tablets themselves are not a good business model."

I love a good CEO-snap story as much as the next blogger. Almost every time Ballmer or Schmidt open their mouths, it's gold for everyone in our industry. Hell, the previous leadership at BlackBerry, co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, said amongst the dumbest things in the recent history of mobile. To see such affluent, powerful people come off as utterly out of touch with reality is about as great a shot of schadenfreude as it gets. So to think the only man currently responsible for a purely mobile computing company on the planet -- BlackBerry carries no legacy desktop or services business -- doesn't think there's a future in the most computer-like form of mobile technology today is... stupefying.

Granted, he wasn't talking about today, but about 5 years from now -- and the velocity of mobile makes it difficult if not impossible to predict the market even a couple of years out, never mind five -- but I'd put good money on the tablet having a bigger future than the desktop for most people, most of the time. That's why Steve Jobs reportedly said the iPad was the most important product of his life.

BlackBerry's version of the tablet, the PlayBook, hasn't been anywhere nearly as successful to date. I've gone on record as saying the PlayBook was probably an ill-advised distraction that led to BlackBerry being even further behind in the phone business than they might otherwise have been, and for BlackBerry it certainly doesn't seem to have been a good business model.

Here's BlackBerry PR's response:

The comments that Thorsten made yesterday are in line with previous comments he has made about the future of mobile computing overall, and the possibilities that come with a platform like BlackBerry 10. We continue to evaluate our tablet strategy, but we are not making any shifts in that strategy in the short term. When we do have information about our PlayBook strategy, we will share it.

And Kevin Michaluk of CrackBerry sums it up this way:

What he did say is that the mobile device in your pocket.. aka. your smartphone... is getting to the point where it has enough computing power in it that it can perform processing tasks akin to a computer. Especially when hooked up to the cloud. And also considering you can connect it up to peripherals like a monitor, keyboard and mouse. It's not that hard to picture a use case where at your home and office are your big screens, and you just walk in and drop your phone down and your work environment is setup off your phone.

The futurist in me wants to take that a step further, to where the computing is decoupled from device, and the "brains" are a constant thing we always have with us, hooked in everywhere, capable of being expressed as a phone or tablet or laptop or desktop or holodeck for that matter. All my stuff, existing everywhere, accessible everywhere, through any hardware interface available.

In that world, interface becomes commoditized. Panels, even beautiful ones, would be utterly interchangeable and transfigurable. In that future, what would an iPhone or iPad look like? What would an iTV or iWatch look like? Manifestations?

Yes, Heins' comment came off sounding ludicrous in the context in which it was presented, and if that's how it was given, he deserved the headlines he got this morning. But funny blog headlines only last a few hours or days. In the greater context, and in the way BlackBerry has been positioning themselves, and in the way Apple has been building out iOS, and in the way Microsoft could figure out 3 screens and the cloud, and in the way Google could take Android or ChromeOS, given some time and coherent thought, the idea of ultra-personal computing 5 years in the future is fascinating.

Feel free to lay into the CEO of BlackBerry in the comments if that's your thing, but also let me know -- where do you see the future of tablets and of computing in five years?

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 36 comments. Add yours.

elpolodiablo says:

I watched to interview on bloomberg and I think everything was taking out of context and I don't think he said anything horrible, i think it's just it's blackberry so dump on him. He basically said that other than apple nobody has figured out a way to make money on tablets because you can't make money off the hardware, it's the services you deliver on them. Apple has said the same thing. Tim Cook basically said they are strategically given margin up on the ipad mini as it's the introduction of apple to emerging markets. So unless you have some idea of what type of service you're going to provide on the tablet It's difficult to make money on it. I think that view point is right. I think he's also said that blackberry isn't going to compete in that market because they can't provide a useful servce on a tablet. They have a phone and their core competency is managing devices for enterprise and making sure they are secure in a BYOD world. I think those are fair statements. I think the whole tablet is dead in 5 years is dumping by the media to get clicks, apple has been getting a fair bit of this lately also

Rene Ritchie says:

It's a "man bites dog" story -- something people will buy/click on. We tell the media what gets our attention, they feed us back more and more of it.

Media gets some blame, but we get some blame too. (I'm both, so I get double blame.)

gfhn says:

Hey Rene Ritchie I'm new on here and I barely know how to do this and I can see the future too just like you and my real name is alexis and I'm 12 years old and this is driving me crazy can you help me because I haven't told my mom yet and I'm planning on not telling her because she'd think I'm crazy and she never beleve's me and sorry because I'm a bad speller but is there any way to stop this without my mom finding out please help me your my only help I really Thot that didn't have this web site but praise The Lord they did I really hope you replay because this has bin happening sense I was a baby girl.

kvanh says:

This was the same thought I had. He thinks the phone will be powerful enough to simply be docked in different contexts. Desktops and Tablets would go away with this.

I don't think this is a bad vision of the future. It's certainly possible, but generally the bigger the device the more power. I can see the phone being the CPU being the center if we don't come up with things needing more power than we currently use tablets for. If games or some other interfaces get developed that need significantly more power than even 5 years from now mobile units will posses than I can see that as a possibility.

Mind/computer interfaces might be one area where a significant amount of processing power or large amounts of memory might be needed.

Rene Ritchie says:

I think there are several sizes of things that have transcended media evolutions. We have the small pocket size, be it paperback or phone, the larger lap size, be it hardcover or tablet, and the even large desk size, be it tome or desktop.

That likely won't change until stuff is injected straight into our brain.

gordol says:

IMO, he may be right. Tablets took off primarily, imo, because people want something bigger than a phone, more portable than a traditional laptop and more useful-powerful than the Netbook was. But now with Ultrabooks taking off and starting to come down in price, I think that will eat into tablet sales moving forward.

Why settle for a boxed in system (regardless of whether iOS, Android or Win8) when you can, for not much more money and about the same portability, have a "full" computer experience? If I had the money for it last year, I'd have gotten a Win7 ultrabook instead of the iPad2 for that very reason.

Dev from tipb says:

In that analogy, Heins merely opined that 5 years from now, dome people will still need trucks, but that tablets will no longer be the car of choice - the smartphone.

I already never use my iPad over my iphone (except for Netflix and Fantasy Football) - so I understand what he means. However, the limitations of the phone have little to do with power, as smartphones already have enough for most tasks, but with viewable space and inputs. *That* is what has to be addresses if the smartphone is to decimate the tablet market. And, of course, it has to be as convenient - most people would prefer carrying a single tablet to a phone + screen + larger input device.

5 years is a long time in tech; by 2018 there may be daring solutions to those problems. If Heins truly believes tablets will be short-lived, he had better have BB labs hard at work on those issues.

NegatronDev says:

I so agree with you on your last statement. However, I am trying to break the dependency on Windows. As I see it I can use my smartphone for just about anything accept developed application which is how I make my living.

That's the only reason I keep my Windows Laptop.

Otherwise I would design my own docking station, charging block with mouse, keyboard and screen and ill be using my smartphone only.

coolhaircolor says:

I have been saying this for the past two years, and I am seeing my predictions come true, the laptop is on it's way out. Laptops have always been bulky, but ever since tablets have hit the scene, many companies have been trying to streamline their laptops, by making, ultra books, but people are buying more tablets now, than laptops. What did computer companies do in response to this growing trend, they have created hybrid tablet/computers with removable keyboards, thus turning it back into tablet. Truth is I actually use my tablet more then my ultra book. I use my ultra book to make changes to my website and edit pictures. I use my tablet more because it is more compact, and easier to carry around.

markbyrn says:

The issue isn't whether or not his dubious prediction is going to come true; the issue is poor judgement in making a statement that can readily be perceived as a self-serving excuse for why the Playbook didn't succeed or make the Playbook obsolete ala the HP Touchpad. Also, as the CEO of a company that's trying to regain lost ground, you probably want to avoid putting your foot in your mouth, and getting mocked and pilloried by the tech press.

west3man says:

That's why the issue is about whether this prediction will come true. Because it's not "putting [his] foot in [his] mouth" if he is telling the truth.

dannyd86 says:

The future where we hold the brains In our pocket and connect them to other devices as we move through the world is fascinating. Would eliminate a lot if problems we have with cross compatability. And it is totally in line with what QNX is designed for. As far as tablets, do we really need a tablet with its own core and everything. Why not just a screen, possibly flexible sold as an accessory to our phone. With a battery nfc and bluetooth. That simply streams what's on your phone. Is buy one.

in previous interviews he has mentioned blackberry can't beat the ipad in ipad game. Which is apps and games. And to a less extent browsing and cloud sharing. But he's willing to release a tablet if it means something new. If u knew what that was I'd be a rich man lol.

The headlines will be gone tomorrow. Stuff out of context is what you can expect in 5 minute interviews and 5 minute blog reposts. Thanks for putting in some thought to the subject Rene, why I come to mobile nations

SockRolid says:

Re: "The headlines will be gone tomorrow."
And BlackBerry will be gone the day after tomorrow.
Kicked down the Palm staircase.

dannyd86 says:

Blackberry isn't going anywhere. And unfortunately neither are idiots like you who blindly cheer for a tech product like its your religion. Thankfully I think the fanboy crap is changing, you will be an annoying minority more and more everyday. Imore and mobile nations isnt your home though, move along.

schmittdog says:

I love how people can pass judgment when a CEO of a tech company provides a little insight to what he holds for the future... Steve Jobs can go on conference calls and say how bad Android and BlackBerry is and that's ok? That's some illogical thinking on everybody's part for not letting Thorsten talk on what he holds for the future. Is everybody really gonna be biased and say that no matter what Thorsten does or says is wrong like that Jack Rabbit Boy Genius? Give me a break Rene. It's dump on BlackBerry once again cause Apple is throwing 60 billion and iBonds to it's shareholders. It's crap and everybody knows it! Would it be as funny if Thorsten would have said 5 years ago that the SmartPhone is gonna replace your digital camera? Tell me how well it goes to sync your 10" iPad to your iCar on the dashboard.

SockRolid says:

What Heins said: "In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore.”
What Heins meant: "We give up. Apple won."

NegatronDev says:

I agree with Thorsten Heins. To me the Tablet is already obsolete. It's to much of an inconvenience using and moving around with a 10" device. My smart phone is all I need. There is nothing I can't do on my smart phone that demand that I carry a tablet.

The fact of the matter is, I haven't used my iPad in months. My five year in the future is now.

Ashish Asawa says:

My Vision of table in five years. Its going to get much better, more lighter, better processing capabilities, touch responses, new sensors, a much better speech AI, (kind of jarvis in Iron Man), more and better apps, more communication with other devices (already started are cars, philips hue).
I dont see tablet going away now in five years, as the kind of impact they have make, its made human computer interaction more natural, a device which can be easily used by any age group, with such a less learning curve, it has limitations though, and so does with any product, their is no silver bullet, but yah I am sure its going to get better and better. Take first generation iPad and current one, you can see the difference.

dandbj13 says:

Sorry, Rene. Sometimes you are too much of a diplomat for your own good. T. H. said what he said. Trying to massage the meaning into something more rational may sooth a few, frayed nerves on the Blackberry side of the MN empire, but it does nothing for the integrity of the story, IMO.

T. H. would like nothing more than to roll back the clock, and make the PlayBook un-happen. He still has to deliver BB10 for the PB, but probably would rather not. The PB is a constant reminder of the stupidest failure in the history of the company. Chasing Apple into that market, especially at that time, was asinine, and everyone outside of RIM knew it.

Since he can't talk about tablets of the past, he has to talk about the future of tablets. Once again, the PB is causing the company to position itself in stupid terms with regard to the tablet market. Of course, tablets are profitable. Apple has made it so. And tablets: the iPad, will go on being profitable well beyond five years. The PC has done just fine for 30 years. What makes him think tablets won't stick around on the profit sheet for eight? He has to justify why his company is pulling the plug, by dumping on the tablet's prospects for the near future.

As for his vision for a world where our only computing device is a Blackberry phone with keyboard, plugged into different terminals, ask him how he's enjoying his Atrix. I don't think a Blackberry Atrix is going to work any better than a Motorola Atrix, do you? That is not a vision of the future; it is a return to the junkyard of failed ideas.

People like tablets. On the Android side, flagship phones are approaching the size of tablets. The next generation of the Galaxy Tab will be a 7" phone. Apple just sold 19.5 million iPads in an off quarter. There is a certain screen size that, below which, common tasks become difficult. People do not want a phone plus several, dumb terminals. If that is the direction Blackberry is headed, then they absolutely deserve the scorn being heaped on them now. Personally, I think T. H. just wanted to poo-poo the thing that their competitor is good at, and they're not. Trying to turn it into something more thoughtful does a disservice to the comment that was actually made.

By the way, does disagreeing with you mean that I should not bother to apply for the next writing job for iMore? :)

asuperstarr says:

The future if tablet computer is so important, so many kids have grown up to the device that it is second nature to them. So this is a part of our culture as the PC was to most. Some of the guys speak on trying to think they can vision the future. If they could see that, then state what he sees replacing tablets or being used in its place. Who knows all you can do its keep working on the next thing.

NAMISH says:

It's an opinion of a person... Might be dumb to most but might possibly be valid in his own reasoning. I'm still a bit skeptical of the likes of iPad and Surface RT not seeing much use of either, but I love both of em regardless. What the future holds, we can never be sure: perhaps tablets may be replaced my holographic watches that give you an entire operating system right at your palm... You never know! ;)

ckrcsmith says:

Rene, I find the concept of using the phone as the primary device, and using bluetooth to hook it up to monitor and keyboard for desktop computing to be interesting. I presently carry around an IBM-issue laptop so I can work from wherever I might be. Using the phone for the same purpose would be much easier.

I currently use the laptop in much the same fashion, a monitor and keyboard at home, and a monitor and keyboard at the office. The biggest challenge to using the iPhone instead would be the security that IBM requires on the laptop. Putting that on my iPhone would interfere with my personal use of the iPhone.

truth51187 says:

My guess is TH's answer to this would be BB Balance.. and if you still wanted to keep the Iphone then BB Mobile Fusion services. :P Either way BB makes some money off of it.

The Reptile says:

There's a lot of childishness and groupthink in the media and the blogosphere. I'm happy to see that a site that I've stuck with over the years at least has the intelligence to understand the comments and extend them. Kudos to you Rene and to Kevin too.

5 years is a long time not just for mobile but for computing as well. If anyone thinks that cloud is a reality today is either smoking something that's only legal in Colorado or likes the taste of Cool aide. What we see there today is merely an infrastructure play. The applications and services that follow are some way off and will come about when the infrastructure architecture settles down. Analytics will be pervasive on the service side but has only begun to penetrate in the broader corporate world that will running these future services. With all three of these key technologies needing maturation you will see a tomorrow far different than today. So, Thor's comments seem funny today but may not be tomorrow.

NickA says:

This is why I like reading iMore. The blogs were ridiculous with this quote, taking it out of context. That's what's wrong with the web: every news and blog site basically copy/pastes stuff from other sites.

Thanks for taking the time to read the quote in context, and actually put some thought in an article about it.

west3man says:

There are some seriously dumb comments here (smart ones, too). It is taking a lot for me not to respond to them, individually. I'll just say that the best I can give Heins is to consider that fablets will play big part of the future.

The greater truth is probably that mobile phones and tablets may become indistinguishable from each other as simply being different sizes of the same computing form factor.

But I don't think it changes how stupid this comment was. I am really surprised that the first thing I read wasn't that BlackBerry stock took a dive immediately after his comment was revealed.

Account Account says:

The reality is that Heinz is drinking the same koolaid that lazardis and balsillie did. Seems like it mught have some hallucinogenic properties to it...

igrar#IM says:

Heins is a clever guy, I have trust in what he says ... may be be they are planning something special ?

williamsbh76 says:

I don't know about others but the iPad has made parts of my job much more streamlined. I love my iPhone when I am on the move but when I am working in the courtroom (not an attorney but in a correctional field) my iPad just works better. I can pull case files up, handle emails, and have better access to information verses dragging out my Macbook Pro or trying to rely on my phone to do complex tasks and data. I also read using my iPad, play more games, and browse the web on it. It just beats the computer for most tasks and leisure as well. Plus it is bigger and more easily accessible than my phone in many situations. I don't see the tablet market going away in five years and whereas it will not completely phase out a phone or traditional computer, it has definitely created its own nitch for use and marketability.

Jayel Chambers says:

He might be on to something. I'm a field agent for HTC and I have been using the HTC One since 2/19/13 and my iPad has sat in a laptop bag untouched! Given the larger displays on smartphones and the lack of computing power of tablets he may be right.

William Volk says:

His comment on tablets has inspired us to create a puzzle for our iOS game, Crickler.

The “Worst Tech Predictions EVER” puzzle features Thorsten Heins’ claim that “In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore” and other infamous tech predictions from the past. Notable examples include Michael Dell’s suggestion that Apple Computer shut down and return their money to shareholders etc.

schmittdog says:

Oh, and Rene, when you're wrong kinda like the way people harrass a tech CEO, I'm gonna call you out. You claim that the PlayBook was just a waste of "time" and they should have been focusing on phones, but if you read anything but your Apple blogs, you would find this from Sebastien from QNX:

PlayBook [released in April, 2011] was a stepping stone to the phone. If you look at the lineage, we started with the automotive software, which became PlayBook, which became BlackBerry 10 for the phone. Now, a lot of that software is going back to the next generation of the car and other devices.

http://ca.finance.yahoo.com/blogs/dashboard/blackberry-road-map-life-z10...

gfhn says:

Please answer I really don't know ho you but I'm really banking on you I never ever told any body else and I really don't think that you'd actually answer to me because nobody really cares about me. And they really never replay