If you predict tablets will be obsolete soon, you're inviting ridicule. That's especially true if you're Thorsten Heins, the CEO of BlackBerry.
And yet that's exactly what he's done. He thinks tablets will be obsolete in five years.
Laugh away, BlackBerry haters. You'll be laughing out of the other side of your mouth when 2018 rolls around and Heins is proven right.
"In five years, I don't think there'll be a reason to have a tablet anymore," Heins told Bloomberg two weeks ago.
"We believe in a single element of mobile computing: one on your hip," he told CNET on Tuesday:
"The industry got stuck on the term tablets," Heins said, noting that, despite his prior comments, he does see a role with larger-screen devices. "We want to create something that's easier to use."
Heins' goal is to transform the tablet experience so they don't run on a separate operating system. Instead, they potentially could rely on a BlackBerry to act as the brains of the device. The tablet could be a larger screen without an OS of its own.
Heins's comments could be seen as sour grapes. BlackBerry has been badly burned by tablets after the failure of its own PlayBook, a tablet without key BlackBerry features, including email and instant messaging.
And yet Heins is paralleling some thoughts I had last week. I was at the Interop conference in Las Vegas, at the midpoint of a few weeks of conferences. At conferences in previous years, I carried a heavy notebook computer on my shoulder 10 to 16 hours a day, on my feet much of that time. Now, I just carry a Nexus 7 tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard. I leave the laptop on my desk and use it in the evening.
I wrote about this in September: Getting Real Work Done on the Nexus 7 . At that time, my reliance on the Nexus 7 was still experimental. But it's not an experiment anymore. It's just how I work. I can use a tablet for everything I need to do at a conference, take notes, file articles, and manage email and social media.
Last week I realized there's very little preventing me from being able to do everything I need to do on a tablet, period. Not just at a conference, but everywhere, all the time. And I think that's true for most people, although there will always be multimedia producers, software developers, scientists, and statisticians who require more powerful machines.
A keyboard and mouse aren't a problem. They connect with tablets using Bluetooth. And tablet apps are just as good as their desktop counterparts.
The only thing standing in the way of using a tablet as my main computer is display size. A 7-inch display is the ideal size for a tablet, but it begins to get cramped for long periods of focused work at the computer. A 15-inch notebook display is better. Even better, I like to spread out on the 27-inch display on my desk in my home office.
A tablet that docks with an external display would be my ideal computer. I'd carry it around and thumb-type on it when mobile, and dock it with a nice big display for normal desk work.
Fortunately, there are a number of vendors working on this problem. There's a new generation of convertible tablets, such as the HP Envy, which runs Windows on a tablet with a detachable keyboard. Samsung is reportedly working on a line of Android notebooks, to ship by late summer. I get a sense Microsoft is looking to solve the same problem with the Surface tablet: It's neither a notebook nor a tablet as we currently know them, but rather a new category of product that fits between the two. And I'll be watching Google's I/O conference this week to see whether the rumored new Nexus 7 tablet supports an external display.
At first, it appears that I'm saying the opposite of what Heins says. He's saying the tablet will be obsolete. I'm saying the tablet will replace the desktop. But really Heins and I are talking about the same thing: redefining the current categories of laptop, tablet, and smartphone, too, to fit a new category of mobile devices that combine the best qualities of all of them.
What do you think? Can you see using a tablet as your main computer in the near future?
ó Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution
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