BlackBerry 10: If the Tablet is Going Away, Then What?

BBLive2013.LogoTuesday morning marks the launch of BlackBerry Live 2013, BlackBerry’s annual enterprise mobility conference for service providers and enterprise customers; concurrently BlackBerry Jam Americas targets BlackBerry’s extensive network of third party developers.  It would appear that over 3500 will be attending these three day events to learn more about the directions BlackBerry, the company formerly known as RIM, will be taking and how to benefit from participating in their ecosystem.

A much anticipated highlight will be the Tuesday morning keynote speeches where we expect to learn more about the future direction of BlackBerry’s offerings.

Here’s my speculation, based on both my own career exposure to multi-tasking and mobile computing combined with my understanding of BlackBerry’s unique QNX technology:

Recently BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins commented how we may not be seeing a tablet in five years’ time while at the same time seeking out a value-added mobile computing ecosystem built around a smart phone. In my previous post, BlackBerry: A Smartphone Manifesto, I concluded with:

What runs through the back of my mind as my BlackBerry 10 experience builds is how I am carrying, in that little black “slab”, a computer that, when combined with an communications ecosystem, makes it many times more powerful than the IBM mainframes I ran for complex research and industrial applications many years ago. Add the input and output hardware appropriate to the user’s environment and needs and you have a powerful mobile computing device that becomes central to managing all your activities.

Think of mobile computing platforms as extensions to, and resources for, our overall neural functioning.

It has caused some questions on various forums that I follow and caused me to reflect on how we are moving towards a world where a smartphone can serve as the centerpiece for not only all our mobile computing needs but also, in context, appropriate information delivery system.

Some past history leading up to this conclusion:

  • Multi-tasking PC’s and devices are in my blood; they made me a lot of money during my active career in technology sales, marketing and business development activities.
  • During my last years at Quarterdeck, we offered a network supported multi-tasking environment called DESQview/X, employing the X Windows protocol connecting local PC’s, acting as an X terminal, to both local and remote applications over “TCP/IP”.
    • Yes, the concept of client and server in X Windows is backwards relative to our normal concept of these terms. Although still in use in some applications, somehow the concept of data packets, websites and web browsing and the more efficient Internet took over.
An X terminal is a thin client that only runs an X server. This architecture became popular for building inexpensive terminal parks for many users to simultaneously use the same large computer server to execute application programs as clients of each user’s X terminal. (Wikipedia)
  • In the fall of 1996 a client sent me to Oracle’s annual partner event where Larry Ellison was promoting the concept of “dumb client” terminals connected via the Internet to remote data base servers for all our information processing activities. It was played down as impractical at the time …. I forget the terminology Oracle used … but there was something about software blades. Whatever the initial terminology was, it eventually evolved into Oracle’s cloud.
  • While attending ceBit 2007 the initial implementation of “glass” as a display surface was demonstrated where television broadcasts could be viewed on bathroom mirrors.
  • We have also seen Microsoft’s demonstrations of “surface computing” technology using tabletops (not associated with their “tablet” devices).
  • Paris has boulevard information boards that are essentially large screen displays where you use “touch” to find, say, appropriate restaurants, museums or other tourist attractions as well as Metro subway route information.

In my recent post I mentioned a couple of other trends:

  • the rise of cloud-based computing:
  • new, open system, developer tools such as HTML5 that simplify application development
    • while improving overall performance
  • the evolution of the M2M (machine to machine) “Internet of things”
  • use of NFC protocol to enable information exchange, whether transactions or content

Where does this lead to with respect to the “death of the tablet”?  More importantly, where can BlackBerry come up with a value-add business opportunity by building out its “mobile computing platform” around a smartphone?

A recent video, A Day Made of Glass, demonstrates how important the evolution of glass technology supporting displays has become; it also gives a very good overview of why the world will be migrating to one of smartphones, displays (of any size), keyboards, wireless Internet connections and printers:

Yet what is the secure, robust and scalable operating system already in place that can support this concept?

As Dan Dodge describes it, “QNX is used in systems where the cost of failure is very high”

QNX (and the BlackBerry 10 operating system); with over 30 years of evolution, it already it supports the basics for such a world:

Bottom line: Coming back to my previous conclusion, enhanced through the concepts in the video, I envision a world five years from now where we walk into an office, home, Internet cafe, library, airport lounge or other environment carrying a handset smartphone.

On entering the smartphone  simply connects wirelessly, with appropriate security, to peripheral hardware such as  display, keyboard and printer. The (BlackBerry) smartphone acts as the arbitrator of all our activities and content. Yes, the tablet form factor is one display option but without the need for built-in intelligence and proprietary application ecosystems.

My one concern: what will be put in place to ensure optimum battery life conditions?

Looking forward to listening to Tuesday’s keynote session at BlackBerry Live 2013. (Live streaming will be available.) One outcome of Heins’ statement is certain; there will certainly be lots of media and blogger attention.

Thanks to Frank O’Kelly on the BlackBerry Business LinkedIn forum for bringing this video to my attention.

Full disclosure: The author is attending BlackBerry Live 2013 as a guest of the BlackBerry Elite program. Other than a non-disclosure agreement regarding confidential information, no conditions have been placed on any coverage I may provide of the event. At the time of authoring this post, I had no proprietary information regarding BlackBerry’s future direction but rather simply my own past experience.

The author has a small holding of BlackBerry shares. But he also has iOS and Android devices in order to experience a cross section of the smartphone and tablet market. These observations are based on publicly available information combined with his own past business experience at senior management levels in high technology markets. His main interest is in seeing several thousand jobs maintained in not only the Canadian economy but also in BlackBerry organizations around the world.

Given that RIM stock has been somewhat volatile for the past few months I can only say check with your investment advisor before taking any action. These posts are for information purposes only.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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