"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.
Both Enderle and IDC's Mainelli said large smartphones, meaning those that have displays of six inches or more, will potentially cannibalize tablets with smaller displays of seven inches or so.
"The iPod Touch has pretty much been eliminated by the iPhone, and I think the iPad mini is likely to be eliminated by the iPhone, while the iPad and the MacBook Air are likely to become redundant to each other," Enderle added.
Other emerging technologies, such as 3D gesture controls, voice controls and projection technology, could eliminate the need for physical keyboards or displays, and could place greater reliance on a smartphone or a similar device as a wireless processing hub in a workspace.
"Tablets will sell well for a few years, but with things like Google Glass and projection technology, which projects a screen on any surface, the concept of a tablet is less relevant," said J. Schwan, the CEO of Solstice Mobile, an enterprise mobility consultancy that works with companies like Sprint and industrial parts supplier W.W. Grainger to implement ubiquitous mobility systems.
Schwan said Heins' comments provoked spirited debate among designers and engineers in his Chicago office over the future of personal computing.
"A lot of our current work is getting people off of laptops and moving towards 100% use of the handheld device," Schwan said in an interview. Solstice is testing Google Glass, Nuance's voice navigation and Leap Motion's 3D sensor technology. Leap Motion's controller senses a user's hands and fingers in order to follow every move as precisely as 1 centimeter by 1 centimeter. The technology could be precise enough to detect finger movements similar to striking an actual keyboard, Schwan said.