Bloomberg’s Hugo Miller and Nadja Brandt quote Blackberry CEO Thorsten Heins contending that the popularity of tablet computers may wane, a strong hint that there will be no BlackBerry tablet successor to the company’s ill-fated PlayBook device.
Miller and Brandt cite Mr. Heins saying in an interview at the Milken Institute conference in Los Angeles that in five years he doesn’t think there’ll be any reason to have a tablet anymore, adding that tablets themselves are not a good business model—his presumed implication being that smartphones are getting so feature-packed and powerful that they will be capable of fulfilling nearly everyone’s mobile computing device needs and aspirations.
That’s arguably so, assuming the concept of the smartphone becoming sort of a digital hub “brain” of a system that would include a docking station it could jack into at home or office to support a desktop display and external input devices. However, as a full-size iPad addict, I can’t imagine being satisfied with only an iPhone for mobile computing, or even a phablet-size device or a 7-inch tablet.
Mr. Heins’ suggestion is also strongly dissonant with IDC reporting on Tuesday that worldwide tablet shipments continue to surge, growing 142.4 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2013. Mr. Heins’ musing is attracting a fair bit of scorn from the tech commentariat.
The BlackBerry CEO’s prediction has even inspired a new puzzle addition to Baltimore-based developer PlayScreen’s iOS Game Crickler (a game dedicated to notable technology predictions that failed; pictured at right). Entitled “Worst Tech Predictions EVER,” the puzzle features fifteen of the most infamously wrong predictions. Notable examples include Michael Dell’s 1997 suggestion that Apple Computer shut down and return their money to shareholders; Sir. Alan Sugar’s claim that the iPod would be dead by 2005; 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.
“Crickler is a great way of learning about any subject, while having fun” says PlayScreen chief creative officer William Volk. “Having seen the amazing success tablets are having with gamers and educational apps, I feel confident this forecast has earned a special place in the list of magnificently wrong predictions.” (Crickler 2: Daily Word Puzzle 2.4 is free and available worldwide exclusively through the App Store in the Games category.)
However, Mr. Heins has a defender in Quartz’s Christopher Mims, who argues that BlackBerry’s CEO is correct in his suggestion that there is no future in tablets.
Mims says that just as PC manufacturers are currently feeling the hurt as consumers opt for tablets and other devices, what’s to stop the same downward spiral of razor-thin margins that undermined the PC market from destroying the fortunes of tablet makers as well?
He notes, for example, that the $169 Archos 80 Titanium tablet is essentially an iPad mini knockoff clone, right down to its screen, which has the exact same resolution as the mini’s. But it sells for almost exactly half the iPad mini’s $329 price tag, and is on a more open, flexible platform that isn’t as locked-down as Apple’s walled garden.
Mims suggests that if the history of the PC is any guide, Apple’s share of the tablet market will continue to shrink until it represents only the minority of people willing to pay a steep premium for what they perceive as a superior user experience.