BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins' prediction this week that tablets would decline in popularity flies in the face of widespread industry forecasting for an explosion of tablet shipments through 2017. But his comments also provoked debate on what will happen over the next five to 10 years to smartphones, tablets and laptops -- even wearable computers -- and what devices users might favor.
Some analysts said Heins could be setting the scene for eliminating the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which launched in 2011 but hasn't gained market traction. Others said Heins is likely envisioning a world where the smartphone acts as a hub to other displays in rooms or on what users wear to provide processing power and wireless access to data in the cloud.
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In an interview with the Bloomberg news service on Monday, Heins said, "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."
Tablet market to soar
Although tablets might not be a good business model for BlackBerry in particular, analysts widely agree that the tablet market will skyrocket and will be here for many years to come.
IDC in March predicted that tablet shipments globally would expand by 175 percent in five years, reaching 352 million tablets shipped in 2017. That's an annual growth rate of 22 percent from the 128 million tablets shipped in 2012, IDC said.
"When Heins says tablets aren't a good business model, I think he means for BlackBerry," said Tom Mainelli, an analyst at IDC. "Tablets are a great business model for Apple. There are plenty of companies who think they can build a strong business around tablets."
Android, for example, is expected to become the dominant tablet operating system sometime in 2013, although it has been less popular with workers than with consumers, IDC said. Android tablets will grow to nearly 49 percent of global market share in 2013, up from 46 percent in 2012, while Apple's iOS tablets will slip from 51 percent to 46 percent over the same period.
Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets and BlackBerry's PlayBook each had less than 1 percent of the market in 2012. Of those three platforms, only Windows 8 will grow appreciably by 2017 to more than 7 percent, IDC said.
An ulterior motive for Heins' comments?
Gartner and other analyst firms have made similar predictions, prompting comments that Heins has an ulterior motive and wants to emphasize smartphones like the new Blackberry Z10 and the coming Q10 over the company's PlayBook. Or he may be paving the way for a possible new version of a BlackBerry tablet.