BlackBerry CEO Thinks Tablets Are Dead Within 5 Years

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BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins wants the world to know that he's a visionary. By 2018, he told Bloomberg, he sees a future that's so advanced it's gone all the way back to 2009 because by then this whole tablet thing will have gone the way of the dodo.

“In five years," he said, "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.”

Yeppers, you read that correctly. We aren't in a Post-PC world, as Steve Jobs liked and Tim Cook likes to tell us, we're in a Pre-Post Tablet world. Now that's forward thinking.

But wait, there's more, because Mr. Heins's forward vision also sees that the future will be dominated by his company, a sort of corporate once and future king.

“In five years," he said again, "I see BlackBerry to be the absolute leader in mobile computing—that’s what we’re aiming for. I want to gain as much market share as I can, but not by being a copycat.”

BlackBerry Dunce

This from the guy who thinks that the most exciting product his company has is the Q10, a device with a physical keyboard designed to appeal to BlackBerry users who haven't already given up on that dog.

I was literally rendered speechless (I have a witness) when I first read this stuff. I even wondered if Bloomberg was punking us, so incredibly stupid are these pronouncements.

To look at the success of the iPad and conclude that tablets will have run their course within five years is the single most myopic thing I have encountered from a corporate executive.

It's even worse than Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer saying last year that no one had made a tablet than people wanted. While a patently stupid assertion, he wasn't saying no one wanted a tablet, he was just making up nonsense to try and prop up his company's then-new Surface tablet. At least he acknowledged the iPad as a strong competitor in 2010.

It's even worse than when Steve Ballmer dismissed the iPhone in 2007. A lot of people dismissed the iPhone in 2007 (and 2008, and even 2009), but that's what happens with a disruptive product, people don't get it.

The difference here is that the disruptive nature of the iPad is firmly established. That's what makes Mr. Heins's "vision" so appallingly bad, and if I was a shareholder...well let's just say that I wouldn't be a shareholder.

BlackBerry is in a tough situation. The company has some amazing assets, starting first and foremost with its strong corporate services infrastructure, but BlackBerry has stumbled time and again since the iPhone—and later Android—came along and made smartphones useful for more than just email.

Tough situation or not, pretending that tablets aren't a form factor that will increasingly dominate computing until the next paradigm comes along is no way to get things back on track.

Image made with help from Shutterstock.

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13 Comments Leave Your Own

iVoid

He’s looking in a mirror. Blackberry is dead within 5 years.

Lancashire-Witch

That’s a superb graphic for this astounding story. Some CEOs are beyond belief.

Bryan Chaffin

Thanks, LW. smile

aardman

Seems to me that Mr. Heins only gets told about blue skies, rosy scenarios, and good news at the office.

mrmwebmax

+

I read his comments earlier today, my first thought was corporate wishful thinking. He knows BlackBerry can’t compete in tablets, so he is literally trying to wish the entire category away. That’s a level of self-delusion perhaps unparalleled in modern business.

“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.”

Wow…this guy’s got blinders the size of church bells. He mentions “workspace,” and that tells you his entire mindset is focused exclusively on the enterprise. He can’t see that the consumerization of IT has taken over, and that more than anything tells me that BlackBerry is doomed.

geoduck

You beat me to it iVoid.
If there was any doubt that BB is a lost cause this is it. I have been saying they were doomed for a couple of years now. Then BB10 came out and some new hardware and I figured that maybe I was wrong. Maybe they might hang on and carve out a nich long term. But now this?
Fugettaboutem.
BB is taking the same off ramp Commodore and Gateway took. Soon they’ll only to be an entry in Wikipedia.

Eolake Stobblehouse

Speechless is right.
Maybe he is trying the trick of the old greek, who reasoned that it was better to be famous for something really stupid than to be forgotten, so he went and smashed things in a temple. I’ve forgotten his name.

b9bot

Denial will get you no where. Blackberry said from the beginning that Apple couldn’t sell a phone that could compete back in 2007. Look what happened.
Nay sayers said that about the iPod as an MP3 player to and look what happened. They said it about the iPad and look what happened. So for Blackberry to come out with this statement really shows you that they don’t have a clue even now. Him and Steve Balmer should get together and have a big denial party. They would have a great time together in there own little world of denial.

wab95

Bryan:

Where to begin. So many targets, so little time. And this from the company (perhaps not the self-same fellow) that said QNX was the future.

This is one of those situations where, when a team leader runs out ahead of his senior management team and says something like this, the team is left in stunned silence as they stare into the abyss of certain extinction. It’s like the prize fighting contender, who despite a string of recent losses, is nonetheless about to face the reigning champion, goes public and says that the champ is afraid of him. Anyone who understands the psychology of unarmed combat knows the danger of underestimating an opponent; which is orders of magnitude safer than thinking that opponent fears you, when, to him, you’re just target practice.

If what Heins just said reflects leadership consensus at Blackberry (collective delusion and mass hysteria have been documented and are real conditions, but somehow I doubt such consensus), then the company is already dead - inertia simply hasn’t caught up. If not, then I think his team will want to have a word this morning; whilst others will be searching the internet as to where to shop their CVs.

I haven’t read the Bloomberg story, but perhaps you or someone can offer whether or not Heins explained his prediction, that is offered evidence or at least a plausible scenario, for this outcome. If not, then this is little more than magical thinking rooted in the world view that simply wishing makes it so. Let’s be clear: this is a poor substitute for a business plan, indeed, some might label it a disaster in motion.

The data are consistent in their portrayal of strong enterprise (never mind consumer) uptake of the iPad across diverse industries and disciplines. Not only this, data show that the momentum is still gathering. Beyond this, data show that work and personal related use of these tablets (iPads, really) is displacing similar tasks on PCs such that the iPad is cannibalising PC sales. That trajectory strongly indicates that as tablets (again, the iPad) becomes more capable and is supported by yet better apps, this task displacement as well as newly discovered task uptake will only increase, thereby supporting further tablet (iPad) uptake. This is what the data show and support.

If Mr Heins has contrary data, then he should share it. To paraphrase Einstein, ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof’. Heins has an obligation to show evidence in support of his claim. If he has no data, then his comments are not only bound for the dustbin, but fodder for ridicule and an indicator of his company’s pending hard collision with reality; unless Blackberry ditch him first.

Bryan Chaffin

The only defensible take on this (IMNHO) is that he meant that smartphones will themselves usurp the role that tablets are carving out. He didn’t explain his reasoning, at least not that I could find, and even that thesis is ridiculous.

That said, I subscribe to the notion that when someone says or does something that appears irrational there is almost always a missing piece of information on either the doer or viewer’s side that explains why the person did what they did or said. You may still not agree with the person, but the action will no longer appear crazy.

The underlying premise of this pet idea of mine is that very few people are crazy. So, find the missing information and the crazy will be explained.

Now, when Steve Ballmer says the things he says, he’s not crazy, he’s simply spinning. That’s different from Mr. Heins’s comments. They appear completely irrational, which most likely means there’s something we don’t know that will explain why he’s saying what he’s saying.

I’d like to know what that missing information is. Wall Street reacted favorably to this pronouncement from him, FWIW.

I still think it’s nonsense. smile

Thanks for the insightful posts, everyone.

wab95

Bryan:

I completely concur with your reasoning. These CEOs are intelligent people, which is partly why they were selected and then approved by boards who should recognise leadership quality when they see it.

That said, even very intelligent people can say silly things or come to conclusions that are fatally flawed at their foundation. The curious case of Mr Léo Apotheker, and his vision of a ‘cooler than Apple’, hardware-lite and software-suffused HP springs to mind. His answer to Napoleon’s Waterloo.

Without doubt, such leaders have reasoning behind their public pronouncements. The questions are:

1) What is the objective of the statement?

2) What, if anything, is the basis of the statement?

3) Whom is the target audience(s)?

Such is the nature of Mr Heins’ comments/predictions that I can only conclude that chief amongst his target audiences are his own people, and investors; in which case his objective for these is to buttress his ranks and align his troops behind a common strategy, which outsiders need not know. It also signals to the competition that the game is afoot, ‘We’re targeting your tablets, and we say, they’re going down. Five years, tops’.

If either of these is correct, then the one remaining question is, what if anything, is the basis of the statement. One would think that a leader would only make such a prediction if there was a game plan, or at least an idea; and for that, we’ll simply have to stay tuned.

Bryan Chaffin

As an aside, Leo Apotheker is a great example: his plans for HP made no sense unless you look at where he came from, SAP. He essentially wanted to make HP into another SAP. That he did so should therefore have surprised no one, even if it was a stupid, stupid plan.

Your concluding point about the basis of his statement is definitely the interesting (and missing) bit here.

Fun times. smile

madabtmacs

Brian,

Thorsten Heins spoke with Bloomberg’s Willow Bay at the Milken Institute 2013 Global Conference in Los Angeles on Bloomberg Television’s “Lunch Money. : http://www.bloomberg.com/video/blackberry-s-heins-on-q10-z10-phones-and-strategy-UFsL4999TbOEriloiVDscw.html

Nowhere in the video, will you hear him say that, so it was a statement that was perhaps taken during a pre-recording. Regardless if it was taken out of context, he expanded on it later in the interview at 4:50 mark… when asked by Willow Bay:
Is that possible that we see you develop a tablet… do you think you can provide one with a unique experience?

“The tablet market is very challenging from a pure hardware perspective… there are very few companies that make money from it… so if we want to do it, we need a service value proposition on top of that, some of that will be shown at BlackBerry Live… we are running with a different concept that makes this (the BB10 phone) your personal computing device power… and only this is your personal computing device power. So it is a slightly different approach to the market.”

Can you can see where he’s coming from? In the simplest form, I think he was talking about an extension of phone’s processing power onto a dumb touch-screen, instead of making autonomous tablet. Will it be disruptive product (probably not), but will it be one where many other companies can copy and provide for other makes of smartphones, like the Android phones, (probably yes). We will all get a better idea during BB Live in Mid-May. IMHO, I think in 5 years, depending on the processing power and software that you have in that phone in your pocket, the tablet and its form factor most certainly vary.

I was taken aback by you calling it “that dog”. It is not noble these days for a company to carve out a niche for oneself, gain market share and “by not being a copycat”? What so wrong with an aim like that?

As for using a keyboard on a phone, have you ever tried it? If you haven’t then perhaps the next best thing would be for you to swap out your current mac keyboard for touch-based one. One that has a flat glass screen, and won’t ever get dirty. Wait a second, is there even one in the market now. If you don’t envision yourself ever doing it, why talk down on those that love a physical keyboard on their phones.

Best to you.

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