Thorsten Heins Is Not an Idiot, But He May Be a Fool

Thorsten Heins, in an interview with Bloomberg:

“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.”

Most of the Internet reacted with derision, including myself, but Matt Rosoff took the time to dig a little deeper:

The more interesting part is the company’s vision of the future. Heins is saying that the BlackBerry phone will be your one and only device — it will contain your method of authentication, your apps, and your data (or links to your data in the cloud).

So imagine this: In the morning you arrive at work. Your phone wirelessly connects to a monitor on your desk, and all your apps and data appear as if by magic. You work at that desk with a keyboard and mouse, occasionally touching the screen to open apps or zoom into data. When you need to go to a meeting, you transfer the display to a portable flat panel with minimal local storage — a “dumb” tablet if you will — and the same experience, with the same data, is downscaled for the small screen. Your work is not interrupted simply because you have to switch devices.

This is a plausible vision for the future1– and five years in tech is a long time indeed. Something will be at the center of our digital existence. While most believe it will be the cloud, it’s not hard to construct a scenario where it’s our phone surrounded by “dumb” screens, of which the “tablet” is one.

Two visions for the future. The first has the phone as the center, the second has the cloud.
Two visions for the future. The first has the phone as the center, the second has the cloud.

So, in the end, one can make the case that Thorsten Heins is not an idiot.

But even with this generosity, the only possible conclusion is that Heins is a fool. For, in the device-centric world he envisions, Blackberry is most assuredly dead.

The device-centric world is only possible under two scenarios: widespread standards adoption by nearly all device makers, or widespread dominance by one platform. The first is completely unrealistic, and I feel rather safe in guaranteeing that if there is a dominant platform in five years, it won’t be Blackberry. They simply don’t have the wherewithal.

The only world in which Blackberry can exist is the cloud-centric world. The cloud-centric world is, despite the best efforts of nearly all the major players, wonderfully fragmented. I personally have my mail with one provider, my documents with another, and my photos with a third. Each supports all major device types as a matter of course and economic necessity, even Blackberry.

Blackberry’s future – if it has one – is that of a niche device, able to fully participate in a cloud-connected world that can never be dominated by any one platform. The fact their CEO envisions the opposite is foolish.

  1. Albeit one I don’t agree with; this article, particularly the last paragraph, gets at why