By 2018, tablets will be obsolete, says legacy smartphone company CEO

Blackberry’s CEO is back giving more awesomely quote-worthy statements to the press as his company tries to make itself relevant once again in mobile computing. This week Thorsten Heins made waves by opining on the limited future of one of tech’s strongest growing device categories: tablets.

He told 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.”

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins

Heins’ comments have been mocked mostly for his eye-popping five-year prediction and because of the fresh memories of BlackBerry’s utter flop in the tablet market: the Playbook. But, really, it’s not totally impossible that something much more compelling than tablets may emerge before 2018 that will make iPads or Galaxy tablets unnecessary — that’s just the nature of tech. After all, BlackBerry executives know all too well how quickly an established market can change after watching the iPhone(s AAPL) and Android(s GOOG) decimate its smartphone  business over the last several years.

But, as a factual, across-the-board statement, the notion that “tablets aren’t a good business model” is problematic. There’s at least one company that might argue with him since it’s been doing pretty well in part thanks to its decision to start making tablets in January 2010. Samsung, for its part, seems pretty happy with its decision to get into that business too. Gartner expects the worldwide tablet business to grow from 197 million units this year to 467 million units by 2017.

You know who’s not having a great time in the tablet market? Companies that were late to the game. Like Motorola. And Dell. Don’t forget HP’s Palm(s HPQ) debacle.

And, yes, BlackBerry. The BlackBerry Playbook arrived a year after the iPad, but the software was missing huge, important things, like native email and calendaring. The tablet flopped, and the company wrote off a large amount of unsold devices.

The Bloomberg article reminds us that Heins has previously said he’ll make another Playbook if he can make it profitably. That statement is more in touch with reality: it’s possible that BlackBerry can’t make a tablet that is measurably better than what’s already on the market and do it at a profit. It’s hard to compete with Apple and Samsung at this point, given their strong mobile computing brands and deep supply chains.

Heins seems to be implying that smartphones will be more central to the computing experience, as Matt Rosoff argues here at CITEWorld. That’s certainly plausible, but the idea that BlackBerry will be the one to figure this out is harder to believe.

In any event, Heins’ biggest priority right now is promoting his latest smartphones and the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. The success or failure of those products, as opposed to the future of tablets, will determine if his company is around in five years.