If you can give the CEO of BlackBerry any credibility — and that might indeed be a huge stretch — then do not expect that tablets will be significant factors in the mobile computing world in five years. That comment comes from Thorsten Heins, who is struggling to keep the company viable in the face of reduced sales and market share.
According to a Bloomberg report, Heins stated, “In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore. Maybe a big screen in your workspace, but not a tablet as such. Tablets themselves are not a good business model.”
I suppose he’d be right, if Apple Inc. didn’t exist. But it does exist, and so does the iPad, which is in the hands of tens of millions of delighted customers. Heins’ problem is not that tablets are bad, but the result of the fact that the company’s effort to gain a foothold in that market, the PlayBook tablet, was a pitiful failure. So let’s just call it sour grapes.
That also explains some of the other curious comments Heins made, such as the claim that “the profit pool is very, very thin” for tablets. Maybe for BlackBerry, but not for Apple. Or maybe he hopes that, by diverting attention from the facts to his fictional world, he’ll convince customers to buy the newest BlackBerry smartphones. They clearly don’t plan a PlayBook redo.
That the company seems to be making some money these days is, of course, good for employees and stockholders. I suppose it is also possible, as Heins suggests, that people will one day be able to connect their smartphones to large displays to perform their computing chores, at least once mobile gear becomes powerful enough. But this hardly lessens the need for a portable device with a larger screen to handle computing tasks that are inconvenient on a smartphone, even one of those five-inch jobs from Samsung and other companies.
But the BlackBerry CEO’s disconnect from reality is not a new phenomenon, and you wonder if the company itself will exist five years from now if things don’t change significantly for the better. But when something isn’t working, it’s not unusual to pretend it doesn’t exist, or can’t work. Think about Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. The company hasn’t done too well in the mobile space, so by releasing Windows 8, they are supposedly establishing an ecosystem that serves the needs of both mobile and traditional PC users with a single OS. By trying to be the jack of all trades, however, Microsoft has mastered none of them. This explains why so many are clamoring for the return of the Start menu and allowing the system to default boot into the desktop without hacking Windows 8.
This doesn’t mean that tablets are always the perfect mobile computing solution when you need something more robust, or at least larger, than a smartphone. It doesn’t mean that the iPad is necessarily perfect, although recent surveys show Apple’s tablet to hold a roughly 50% share of the market, give or take a few points. There are, for example, things that Apple should do with iOS to make it more friendly to power users.
A key example is the ability to run two apps or at least two document windows side by side. This is something you could do in the 1980s on a Mac with a nine-inch screen. Apple’s sandboxing feature severely limits how apps talk to one another, and while the security concerns are well founded, customers shouldn’t be inconvenienced. I don’t think that many people go to Android just for the enhanced multitasking, but it is an issue.
The other concern is finding a better way to handle files. The other day, I read about a suggestion for a Dropbox feature, a central system-based repository of your stuff that you can access separate from your apps and easily transfer to any iOS or OS X device via, for example, iCloud. On a Mac or a PC, it could work with iTunes to enhance the cross-platform convenience, since so many iPhone and iPad users still own a Windows PC.
I also don’t pretend to be able to guess how the computing market will develop over the next five years, even though that dude at BlackBerry wants you to believe tablets won’t be a factor. Rather than have the smartphone mate with a large display, what about an iPad? What about having all that computing power now the province of a traditional Mac or PC embedded in the guts of a tablet? It’ll happen when those Apple “A” chips are powerful enough.
So you’d simply dock it wirelessly with a full-sized display using the latest versions of Thunderbolt or USB for best performance, and employ a traditional keyboard to handle your desktop chores. Without touching a cable, you pack your iPad (or iPad mini or whatever) in your carrying bag and take it home at the end of your work day, where you can, if you so wish, mate it with another display, or your Apple connected TV?
And this is not to say you wouldn’t be able to do much the same thing with the 2018 iPhone. Think of the possibilities. Or perhaps Apple will move the mobile computing market in a totally unexpected direction, and I’m not making any predictions.