This Week in Tablets: 5 Reasons tablets could become extinct by 2020

May 4, 2013
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Like a lot of other people, when BlackBerry CEO Thorstein Heins’ publicly stated that tablets would cease to exist in 5 years’ time, I found myself baffled.

What an outrageous thing to say. How could the CEO of a mobile device manufacturer believe such a thought?

On the surface, it just sounds like crazy talk. But I want to give Heins credit for being a smart guy. He is a CEO, after all. So what was he thinking? What was his logic behind such a bombastic provocation?

Maybe Heins is just on tilt, and is frustrated by the BlackBerry PlayBook’s inability to gain traction. Or maybe he was trying to mislead the competition. Or perhaps he was simply trying to convey that BlackBerry's future doesn't include tablets in any way, shape, or form?

Regardless of his logic, intentions—or lack thereof, I thought it might be interesting to try to get into Hein’s head a little bit. Are there circumstances that might prompt a rapid tablet extinction?

I was able to come up with a short list of such developments and events. This list includes some pretty far-fetched scenarios:

1. Smartphones become the new desktop replacement. I can see a future where you get to work, put your smartphone on your desk, and it wirelessly connects to your display, keyboard, and mouse, providing full-featured desktop functions. If you assume that tablets are eating into desktop sales, then it would stand to reason that this might in turn eat into tablet sales. Might is the key word here.

2. Flexible and foldable displays. They’re a ways off, but a smartphone that you could unfold into a larger-screen device, and then collapse back into a pocket-sized phone would absolutely jeopardize tablet sales. It’s not likely to happen anytime soon—certainly not in the next five years.

3. Google Glass. Is it possible that by combining smartphones and Google’s glasses, the tablet could somehow become obsolete? Not likely.

4. Ultra books. The notion that ultra-books could become popular enough that they replace tablets would make Intel and Microsoft happy, but it’s not going to happen. They will replace more and more laptops over time, however—and they’ve all but eliminated netbooks from the market.

5. Holographic displays. I won’t dispute the notion that it would be nice to only have one device on my body at any given time instead of three (laptop, phone, tablet). But it’s difficult to imagine how all three products would collapse into a single form-factor. A smartphone that projects some kind of tablet-sized pop-up holographic display seems possible at some point, but definitely not anytime soon.

Short Answer? Heins is wrong

Unless you can think of something that I couldn’t (and if you are, feel free to let fly in the comments below), It’s a safe bet that Heins wasn’t thinking about any of the above when he made his declaration, so the question remains: What was he thinking?

The one thing the above exercise proves out is that Heins is dead wrong about tablets ceasing to exist in a five-year window.

For starters, it is clear that device manufacturers as well as consumers are still in an expansionary frame of mind. New tablets are being announced every month, and sometimes every week. 

Over the last few weeks alone, we've seen HP release an Android tablet and be connected to rumors about a new hybrid 10-inch tablet with a dock and keyboard.  We’ve seen Toshiba announce an upcoming new Win8 Pro WT310 device (possessing an SSD no less) for the enterprise.

And Microsoft is still being connected to rumors over a 7.5-inch Windows Surface device. (My take: a 1400 x 1050 small Surface is a great idea for Microsoft, but Q1 2014 is way too long a wait for consumers, particularly when Acer appears set to release a 7-inch device of its own in coming months.)

What’s more, we’re just beginning to see meaningful purpose-driven integration of tablets into workplaces, careers, and more.

As an example, this week, TabTimes hosted its TABLET STRATEGY event in New York City. American Airlines executive Patrick O’Keeffe keynoted the event, and talked about the airline’s deployment of iPads to all of its 8,600 pilots by the end of this month, eliminating the need to lug around a 40-pound flight bag everywhere they go. (More on this event in a second.)

Ditto education—schools and school systems are just beginning to scratch the surface of what it means to give their students tablets.

The same goes for special needs; just last week I received a press release about a new app named AutisMate, which was built to help children with autism to better communicate via an iPad.

If you’re reading this column, you already get the point I’m making, but it still begs the question: What the heck was Thorsten Heins thinking?

My bet: He wasn’t thinking at all.

This week's winner: Tablet evangelists

Beyond American Airline’s tablet deployment story (which is saving the airline $1 million per year), attendees of Tuesday’s TABLET STRATEGY event were treated to several other interesting talks and demonstrations, including:

  • Google exec Alan Masarek, who spoke at the inaugural Tablet Strategy conference a year ago as CEO of Quickoffice, returned in his new role as a Google Director, post acquisition, and argued that Microsoft is in a “no-win” situation around MS Office on the iPad.
  • Brian Katz, who heads the mobility engineering group at pharmaceutical firm Sanofi-Aventis, gave an entertaining and insightful talk about how corporate app developers screw up by not taking user’s needs into account: “App development is like trying to get a horse out of the mud. A lot of times developers take the same approach they do for the desktop and you end up with what I call a crapplication.”

Runner-up here: Hearst Publishing, which says it now has 1 million subscribers to digital tablet editions of its magazines.

This week's loser: BlackBerry

BlackBerry is already seen by many as being slightly out of touch and behind the times. Whatever the logic behind CEO Thorsten Heins’ puzzling tablets-will-die proclamation, his comments certainly won’t do anything to change that perception. 


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