BlackBerry CEO Thorstein Heins mentioned in a Bloomberg interview Tuesday that he thought that "In five years I don't think there'll be a reason to have a tablet anymore". He was quickly denounced for ignoring the iPad, not owning up to the failure of BlackBerrys own PlayBook tablet, and in general for "trashtalking" tablets and being "hopelessly out of touch".
And those are just the nicer comments.
But perhaps he's not quite as out of touch as he's painted. For one thing, he actually said something quite different from what everyone claims he said.
The Bloomberg story that summarises the Heins comments that ricocheted over the Internet yesterday actually draws from two separate interviews he gave at this week's Milken Institute 2013 Global Conference in Los Angeles. One presumably was an interview with Bloomberg reporter Hugo Miller (or possibly the co-bylined reporter Nadja Brandt) who wrote the online story; the second was a five-and-a-half minute on-air talk with Willow Bay for Bloomberg Television's "Lunch Money" segment.
The online story quotes only three sentences by Heins about tablets, with no context and apparently no follow-up questions to clarify or expand on them:
"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."
So we don't know why Heins thinks that there won't be a reason to have a tablet in five years; or what he sees developing to make that happen. And we don't know what he means by saying tablets are not a good business model.
Nevertheless, Twitter lit up with reactions that persistently claimed Heins said something that he did not in fact say. Here's a sampling:
"BlackBerry CEO: Demand 4 #Tablets Will Die in 5 Yrs. Oh Thorsten, if that helps you sleep at night..." Ashley Berndt @hashlyburnt
"Oups! Thorsten #Heins #BlackBerry CEO: #Tablets will be dead in 5 years... " IT project manager Michelle M. @mimibeloeil
"#Tablets and Thorstein Heins. He just doesn't want to play catch up" cafe moba @cafemoba
"BlackBerry CEO: Demand For #Tablets Will Die Out in 5 Years. me: if we thot for second that company got it, no more" Jeff Hasen @jeffhasen
"BlackBerry CEO says #tablets will be useless in five years" Lafayette PC @LafayettePC
Surprisingly, it's the TV interview that adds a bit more of Heins' thinking, though Willow Bay mainly focuses on business issues.
Here's what he said, transcribed from the video clip:
"As I've always said, the tablet market is very challenging from a pure hardware perspective. Very few companies can make money on the hardware. And 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. But we are running with a different concept that makes THIS [waving a new BlackBerry Z10 touch smartphone] your personal mobile computing power, and only this ... so its a slightly different approach to the market."
Among other things, Heins reveals that the upcoming annual BlackBerry Live user conference, May 14-16, in Orlando will reveal "some" of BlackBerry's attempt to create a compelling "service-value proposition" for mobile users.
"BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins Says Tablets Not A Good Business Model, Evidently Forgetting About iPad" mocks the headline to Darrell Etheringtons story at TechCrunch.
"Heins should've stuck to specifics, however, he went way overboard and came off as though he was losing touch with reality in the interview as quoted by Bloomberg, with broad sweeping statements like 'In five years I don't think there'll be a reason to have a tablet anymore', and '[t]ablets themselves are not a good business model'," Etherington proclaims.
But a closer look shows Heins has a firmer grasp on reality than Etherington. Heins is surely correct when he says that "very few companies can make money on the hardware". His comment is a clear reference to Apple, because Apple is one of the very few companies, and maybe the only one, with a tablet product that returns a very high profit. Trying to imitate or catch up to Apple in hardware profitability, because of the latter's highly integrated and capital-intensive approach to products, is impossible for a company like BlackBerry in today's market (as it is also for Apple's other tablet rivals so far).