Blackberry: Tablets Have a Clear Expiration Date

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins

Blackberry CEO Thorsten Heins believes the age of tablets will end relatively quickly. His reason: Tablets just don’t make sense.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Heins said, “In five years, I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore,” Heins said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Maybe a big screen in your workspace, but not a tablet as such. Tablets themselves are not a good business model.”

From the Blackberry perspective, Heins’ position makes sense. Blackberry was among the first vendors to attempt to challenge Apple’s juggernaut iPad. It developed a device of similar size and capabilities as the iPad, the deservingly maligned Playbook, which ran on Blackberry’s own operating system.

It failed miserably, much as Hewlett-Packard’s TouchPad powered by WebOS crashed and burned.

The numbers are against Heins, though.

Since the iPad hit the market in 2010, more than 400 million units have sold worldwide. More than 220 models were on the market in 2012, and more are being added. And tablets are going far beyond consumer devices, as companies from Lenovo, Samsung, Panasonic and Hewlett-Packard are releasing business-class tablets. Even Microsoft has positioned its Surface Windows Pro as a business-class device.

No, the age of tablets won’t end quickly; but they will someday be superseded by a new generation of technology.

Until then, tablets are the vanquisher of conventional PCs. In fact, competition in the tablet market will only increase as more vendors release new, less expensive and increasingly capable devices. HP, for instance, released its Slate 7, a 7-inch Android powered tablet priced at just $169. While aimed at consumers, the Slate 7 – like other consumer tablets before – will undoubted find its way into the workplace.

The issue isn’t whether tablets are a good business computing devices, but rather how vendors plan to evolve mobile devices for greater business capabilities.

Lacking across the tablet universe are clear and consistent channel strategies. Tablet vendors have thus far failed to clearly articulate how they will bring their tablets and mobile devices to the channel for resale, integration and support. Many solution providers are working around the vendor vacuum, coming up with innovative models for integrating and operationalizing mobile devices such as tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices – such as Apple iTouch – into business uses. They can make money this way, but it’s not an end-to-end channel solution.

Tablet vendors have done a fabulous job of building use cases for consumers; but it’s been consumers building the use cases for business. The introduction of new, low-cost tablets by HP, Amazon, Google and Samsung will usher in hybrid devices used for personal and professional use. There’s even talk that Microsoft and Apple will release low-cost tablets. Businesses are benefiting from the influx of personal owned devices, as they extend worker productivity and decrease IT capital costs.

The opportunity given to the channel thus far has been mobile device management, applications and services that manage smartphones, tablets and ultrabooks regardless of ownership. While it’s a burgeoning segment, it’s only the beginning. Vendors and solution providers will find far greater opportunities with mobile applications tailor made for tablets and smartphones than the actual devices themselves.

Back to Blackberry. Blackberry’s failure with the Playbook wasn’t so much due to performance and form-factor (although they were factors), but rather applications and use cases. Blackberry launched Playbook with an inadequate volume of applications and, worse, couldn’t get its ISV community engaged to develop more apps. The same problem plagued the HP TouchPad when it launched in 2011. And Microsoft has suffered from the lack of Apps for Windows Phone 7.

Does Heins have a point about the practicality of tablets? Absolutely. Tablets aren’t very good at creating content or complex tasks. Microsoft made that argument following the iPad launch; CEO Steve Ballmer derided the iPad because it was mostly good for consuming information. Two years later, Microsoft has a tablet of its own.

Ultrabooks and convertibles may be the answer to the content and productivity issues. Chances are, though, a new form factor will emerge that will change the game again. Google Glass and or the plethora of “Smart Watches” could be the beginning of truly wearable computing.

Here’s the reality: PCs aren’t going away, but they may take a backseat to new form factors. Tablets are still new and hot, and that will continue for the foreseeable future. And there will always be something new just over the horizon.