BlackBerry, Nokia execs express interest in tablets

BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) CEO Thorsten Heins and a senior Nokia (NYSE:NOK) executive expressed varying degrees of support for tablets. The comments are notable considering some research firms predict that tablet connections will generate billions of dollars in revenue for wireless carriers--but currently most tablet users in the United States continue to rely on Wi-Fi connections, according to the NPD Group.

Speaking Tuesday at a session with reporters at a BlackBerry conference in Orlando, Fla., Heins said the company is exploring the future of tablets and is investing R&D dollars into those projects. His comments seemed to contradict statements he made in an interview last month, in which he said, "In five years I don't think there'll be a reason to have a tablet anymore."

In an interview with CNET, Heins sought to clarify his stance. "The industry got stuck on the term tablets," Heins said, adding that, despite his earlier comments, he does see a role for larger-screen devices. "We want to create something that's easier to use."

Echoing what he said in April, Heins said that perhaps a smartphone running BlackBerry 10 could power a larger screen, and that while the company is looking into such a project, he did not seem to indicate the firm will come out with a new tablet anytime soon. "The pure hardware play isn't making a lot of sense today," he said.

The company's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, built on software that predated BB10, has not sold well, especially compared to Apple's industry-leading iPad (NASDAQ:AAPL). BlackBerry sold around 370,000 PlayBook tablets in its most recent quarter, compared to more than 500,000 BlackBerry PlayBook sales in the year-ago period.

Meanwhile, Jo Harlow, Nokia's head of smart devices, said at an event to unveil the Lumia 925 that, "We're very interested in tablets and that's an area we're looking at." However, she said she didn't have any more news to share on future products. Nokia has remained on the sidelines in the tablet market, and CEO Stephen Elop has said Nokia will only produce a tablet if it can do something unique with it. There has been speculation that Nokia will produce a tablet running partner Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8 platform.

While tablets continue to be very hot products in some respects--Apple sold 17 million iPads in its most recent quarter, for example--they continue to rely mainly on Wi-Fi networks rather than cellular networks. According to NPD Connected Intelligence's Q1 2013 Connected Home report, fully 80 percent of the 60.8 million tablets in the United States can only connect to Wi-Fi networks. Among the 20 percent of 3G/4G-enabled tablets in market, just over half (11 percent) have an active 3G/4G data plan. Further, NPD found, 83 percent of tablet owners mostly view video on their tablets at home, so usage is happening where Wi-Fi networks are prevalent and already available.

Cellular-capable tablets will generate a total of $20 billion for wireless operators in 2017, according to a recent report from research firm Strategy Analytics, due in large part to operators' efforts to encourage subscribers to activate LTE connections on tablets through shared data plans.

For more:
- see this CNET article
- see this separate CNET article
- see this ZDNet article
- see this NPD post

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