Is BlackBerry CEO right to question long term tablet future?

BlackBerry’s CEO has questioned the long term future of the tablet – but is this a defensive play after the PlayBook? And what does this mean for the enterprise?

BlackBerry chief exec Thorsten Heins, in an interview at the Milken Institute Conference in Los Angeles, has questioned the long term potential of the tablet, stating they are “not a good business model”.

As reported by Bloomberg, Heins admitted he couldn’t see a future for the device. “In five years I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore,” he said. “Maybe a big screen in your workspace, but not a tablet as such.”

The two interesting words here are ‘as such’. With those two words Heins would seem to be hedging his bets – however, there is evidence to suggest that enterprise tablet adoption won’t be overwhelming.

Last month Antenna Software wrote that tablets at a more economical price range were “not currently fit for business use as things stand” due to poor performance issues, although the enterprise software manufacturer admitted that the game isn’t yet over for budget slates.

Analysing best use cases

The most important aspect to consider here though is the tablet’s primary use in the enterprise.

Nobody’s saying that tablets will displace desktops, even though the opportunity’s there with PC sales continuing to flatline. The quick wins enterprises can take from tablets are still in customer-facing environments and out in the field.

So with that in mind, it’s worth examining how BlackBerry’s PlayBook fits in to all this. Without a dedicated email client, the PlayBook struggled to gain traction alongside Apple and Android slates, and was panned by the vast majority of critics.

Not all were critical, however. Last October Context Information Security proclaimed the PlayBook as the best tablet solution for BYOD ahead of the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab, although admittedly this was before Windows 8 slates hit the market.

As a result, Heins is mulling over whether to produce further tablets, only considering the option only if he’s convinced it can be profitable. If so, BlackBerry may be missing out on a lucrative slice of market share.

This, of course, is assuming BlackBerry’s reputation in the enterprise still holds – it’s not 2008 anymore.

Jennifer Scott, writing for Computer Weekly, noted the “added security and comfort a BlackBerry brings to big business”, but recent research calls that idea into question. The iPass Q4 2012 Mobile Workforce Report back in November showed that BlackBerry was no longer in the top two enterprise devices, with traction continuing to decline.

But what do the professionals think?

Jim Hemmer, CEO at Antenna Software, told Enterprise AppsTech that Heins’ comment was “bold” and that he disagreed in terms of tablets dying out, particularly in the enterprise.

“While I agree with Heins that we will likely see smartphones as a control or power source for other devices in the future, suggesting that tablets will altogether die out is a bit of a reach,” he said.

“We’re seeing tremendous interest and adoption of tablets in the enterprise – in practically every industry from financial services to manufacturing – and we expect to see that continue to grow considerably in the coming years.”

Yet according to enterprise mobility writer Adam Sivell, with many players in the low budget game Heins may be going down the right road, albeit indirectly.

“Now that Apple’s competitors have caught up, tablets are moving towards being a low cost, commodity item,” Sivell explained.

“Traditional PC and component manufacturers are having profits squeezed, and BlackBerry might be right to not try to compete, but rather to innovate,” he added.

Elsewhere, Heins made another bold prediction at the conference: in five years’ time he hopes BlackBerry to be the leader in mobile computing.

The latest OS market share figures see Android as the clear leader, although a recent report from Yankee Group forecast that due to iPhone loyalty, Apple may regain the lead by 2015 – but either way, it’s hard to see BlackBerry doing anything other than compete for third place with Windows Phone.

Yet Heins remains confident, saying: “In five years, 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.”

With one eye on Florian Mueller’s Foss Patents blog, Enterprise AppsTech wonders who Heins is referring to with that statement.

Do you agree with Heins’ comments? What do you use your tablet for, and can you envisage widespread tablet adoption in the enterprise?

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