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Blackberry CEO's comments ignite debate on future of personal computing

Matt Hamblen | May 2, 2013
BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins' prediction that tablets would decline in popularity provoked debate on what will happen over the next five to 10 years to smartphones, tablets and laptops -- even wearable computers -- and what devices users might eventually prefer.

Android, meanwhile, is expected to become the dominant tablet operating system sometime in 2013, although it has been less popular with workers than with consumers, IDC said. Android tablets will grow to nearly 49% of global market share in 2013, up from 46% in 2012, while Apple's iOS tablets will slip from 51% to 46% over the same period.

Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets and BlackBerry's PlayBook each had less than 1% of the market in 2012. Of those three platforms, only Windows 8 will grow appreciably by 2017 to more than 7%, IDC said.

Smartphones to stay as a hub in personal computing

Rather than suggesting that tablets are doomed, analysts said Heins is more likely predicting that smartphones with a wireless connection to the Internet will be at the center of a person's computing capability. Those smartphones will provide more processing power and access to data in the cloud, which can be transmitted to smart displays, watches and headsets via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or other short-range wireless networks.

Last November, in an interview with the New York Times, Heins predicted that average users won't carry a laptop in three to five years. "Instead, smartphones will power the PC workstations of the future, replacing laptops and desktops," he said.

Dulaney said it's a "foregone certainty" that the next generation of ultrabooks -- thin and powerful high-end laptops -- will run on Intel's Haswell chip and will support touchscreens. As such, they become more like the tablets that have physical keyboards attached.

"Maybe what Heins is saying is that phones will be dockable and serve as browser PC's going forward, with an attached large screen," Dulaney added. "That's been done before, but I don't think it's the future."

Mainelli said wearable computers have the potential to disrupt -- but not replace -- both the smartphone and tablet markets. Wearable computers "change the way we interact with smartphones and tablets."

Another Gartner analyst, Carolina Milanesi, said that in coming years, a variety of smartphones and tablets will power larger screens, acting as the engines for monitors.

"The idea of the Swiss Army knife of one device doing everything is passed. We will continue to own multiple devices that we will use in different ways, and tablets will be the core our content consumption activity," she said. "Smartphones will not go away for quite some time. With wearable computers, you could see some functions migrate from phones to wearable devices, and for some users that might make smartphones less important ... But bottom line, tablets are not a fashion and will be here to stay."

Analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group, said Heins is correct about some tablets going away, at least traditional tablets that were basically netbooks with touchscreens instead of keyboards. "Tablets are becoming just as capable as laptops, and they increasingly have optional keyboards, meaning they are morphing into a laptop variant," Enderle said.


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