Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 1:21 pm.

Crazy About Tablets

Is BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins just nuts? Or…

Today’s big quote is from BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins, who’s getting widely mocked for what he said yesterday about tablets. Here’s Bloomberg‘s account:

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

Well, okay.

There are a few possibilities here.

  1. He’s nuts, totally wrong, and we should just make fun of this today and move on.
  2. He’s right, and I’ll be writing a detailed how-I-blew-the-tablet-story article in five years. (Cough, Flash.)
  3. There’s some nuance or context missing that makes him part-right but still pretty ridiculous-sounding.

There was a point, after all, when it might have been hard to believe that the netbook market would simply vaporize the way it has.

It’s possible, then, that something will happen that will make tablets-as-we-know-them seem undesirable. For example:

  • Maybe in five years, everyone will have a paper-thin, 6-inch phone in their pocket, and a paper-thin, 30-inch touchscreen computer at home, and/or Google glasses, and today’s 8-to-10-inch tablets will be rare.
  • Maybe he’s talking about a specific class of usage — big-company desk workers, or something? — and not mainstream consumers?
  • Maybe there’s a technicality in his thinking or semantics that’s not coming across.

Or maybe he’s just trying to sound provocative when he really has no idea what’s going to happen.

Apple’s iPad business, for example, is still growing rapidly. In the recently reported March quarter, Apple shipped 19.5 million iPads, 7.7 million more than it did the year before. That’s better than the year before, when March-quarter iPad shipments increased 7.1 million from 2011.

Why the acceleration? One reason is the iPad mini, which — on the other hand — is depleting Apple’s legendary profit margins. But Apple still likely recorded at least $1 billion — maybe $2 billion — in iPad profit last quarter alone. So saying that tablets are “not a good business model” seems more specific to BlackBerry, which has only ever shipped lousy tablets.

In its three years of life, the iPad’s growth chart looks pretty great — especially relative to the Mac business. Here’s five years of history to look at.

iPad Mac Chart

But that’s the blessing and the curse of technology: It is possible for things to be completely different in just a few years’ span. So maybe in five years, tablets will rule the world. Or maybe they actually won’t.

Also: Has The Mac Peaked Forever?