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?