Handhelds make a comeback

Handheld computer shipments broke the one million mark for the first time in Europe last quarter, despite the dire predictions of industry observers

European shipments of handheld computers broke the one-million mark for the first time during the last quarter of 2003, while smartphone shipments topped two million, according to research from Canalys published on Monday.

The rise in sales shows that there is more life in the data-centric handheld market than some had predicted, partly due to the popularity of features such as GPS navigation, and a rise in corporate spending, Canalys said. Hewlett-Packard  was one of the main beneficiaries of stronger corporate sales, and consolidated its position as the leader in data-centric handhelds with 32.9 percent of the European market, according to Canalys' research.

The figures cover Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and divide handhelds into data-centric devices such as PDAs (personal digital assistants) and voice-centric devices such as smartphones -- mobile phone handsets with PDA-like features.

HP topped the PDA market with 406,420 devices shipped. It is followed by Palm with 307,100 devices, or 24.9 percent market share, a 19 percent decline in shipments from the same quarter a year ago. Palm is struggling to compete with HP on two fronts, analysts said: one is HP's strength in the enterprise, which has allowed it to benefit from increasing corporate spending, and the other is Palm's weakness in the increasingly popular GPS market.

"Handhelds have found a new lease of life with the arrival of competitively priced GPS navigation bundles," said Canalys' director, Chris Jones, in a statement. "Vendors without navigation bundles will find it harder to get shelf space -- Palm and Sony have some catching up to do in this area."

German vendor Medion was third in data-centric shipments, with 11 percent of the market, followed by Sony with 6.2 percent.

Shipments of voice-centric devices, including smartphones and feature phones, were nearly twice those of PDAs, at 2.2 million, with Nokia leading by a wide margin with 1.7 million devices shipped, or 77.9 percent of the market. Nokia has the widest range of smartphones and successfully tapped into the corporate market in Q4 with its enterprise-oriented 6600 handset, Canalys said.

Sony Ericsson was second in smartphones, with 9.7 percent of the market, its P900 enjoying higher shipments than the earlier P800. Motorola was third with 6.4 percent of the market, partly boosted by the success of its A920 3G handset and the Windows-based MPx200.

The Symbian OS, which powers the smartphones of Nokia, Sony Ericsson and others, enjoyed shipments of more than two million for the quarter, making it an increasingly powerful competitor in the corporate market. "We expect Nokia to target the corporate mobility solutions segment very hard this year, and the Symbian OS is now reaching the shipment levels needed to make it a contender in the enterprise," said analyst Rachel Lashford, in a statement.


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