BlackBerry CEO: Tablets will be dead in five years


Thorsten Heins, chief executive officer of BlackBerry, holds a Q10 smartphone while speaking during a Bloomberg Television interview at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Monday, April 29, 2013. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)
April 30, 2013

Forget the death of the PC: BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins thinks tablets are on their way out as users shift to doing more through their smartphones.

In comments Monday at a Milken Institute conference, Heins said smartphones will become users’ main source of computing power in the next five years. People will simply plug whatever display, keyboard or other accessory they need to do their work into a smartphone. For many workers, a smartphone will be the only device they need, he said.

“I doubt whether there’s a tablet a few years from now,” Heins said. “You can just connect it to a big screen, and off you go.”

Heins has switched all of his computing to a smartphone and BlackBerry’s own PlayBook tablet, he said. And while he acknowledged that some jobs require other devices — for example, he said, he doesn’t work a lot with spreadsheets — he thinks “40, 50 percent” of people will only use their phones.

There is a consumer push to reduce gadgetry, with many people expecting that the market for laptops will continue to dwindle as users favor tablets more heavily. There’s also a trend toward consolidation with larger “phablet” phone-tablet hybrids — though it’s up for debate whether that’s an indication that tablets are taking over the phone market, rather than the other way around.

Heins acknowledged that it’s still not clear how technology will evolve to make the smartphone the primary computing device for users. But, he said, the trend toward the smartphone makes him think that BlackBerry shouldn’t be rushing a new tablet to the market at this point.

There had been some chatter about whether BlackBerry would make a renewed push into the tablet market after failing to catch consumers’ (or critics') affections with its much-panned 7-inch PlayBook in 2011. But Heins made it clear that he doesn’t see a reason to jump in with a copycat tablet unless the company can offer something different. Playing catch-up, he noted, is something BlackBerry has already spent too much time doing.

That was another point Heins touched on during his wide-ranging discussion of BlackBerry and its future — the acknowledgment, again, that the company “missed certain trends” in the industry, and is trying to woo back consumers who grew frustrated with user experience issues, such as a lack of apps and a slow browser on its older phones.

With its new Z10 and Q10 smartphones, Heins said, BlackBerry is starting to make phones that appeal to business people as secure and fun devices — an important issue to address as more companies relax their security policies to allow employees to use their personal devices for work.

Yet while the enterprise market is certainly where the company’s most devoted base lies, Heins said he’s not quite ready to yield the consumer market completely to dominant smartphone players such as Samsung and Apple.

“We play in the smartphone market,” he said. “I’m not artificially limiting my market...but you need to know what your position in that market is and who you’re talking to.”

Heins said BlackBerry would like to pick up as much market share as it possibly can, but that it can’t do that by trying to make a “better iPhone.” Instead, he said, BlackBerry has to find its own audience.

Related stories:

BlackBerry Z10: Can this phone save BlackBerry?

BlackBerry Q10: The classic BlackBerry gets a makeover

BlackBerry hits back at analyst’s report of customers returning Z10 smartphones

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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