PDA market remains buoyant

Stand-alone PDAs sold better than all-in-one phone/organiser combinations in Q4, although the enterprise market isn't yet convinced of the need for handhelds

Last year was officially a difficult one for mobile phone and PDA manufacturers.

The latest figures from Gartner Dataquest show a 9.1 percent decline in PDA shipments from 2001, mainly because enterprise buyers aren't yet convinced they should buy such handheld computers.

Yet despite this fall, the market in Europe was surprisingly buoyant in last year's fourth quarter. Researchers at Canalys have calculated Q4 2002 mobile device shipments up 72 percent on the corresponding three months in 2001.

Palm alone saw a 19 percent jump, even though the Gartner figures show its unit sales declining 12.2 percent year-on-year worldwide for all of 2002.

IDC, measuring 'smart handheld devices', puts Europe's Q4 shipment increase at 88 percent.

While Nokia continues to lead the pack in phone sales and has done well with its 'smarter' 7650 handset and 9210 Communicator product, in general providers of stand-alone PDAs did better than vendors trying to combine phones and PDAs in all-in-one wireless handhelds.

Canalys reports that "wireless handhelds (those that have built-in GSM or GPRS) remain a difficult sell." It prefers the model of a small phone and bigger screen PDA used in conjunction via a Bluetooth connection, though acknowledges setting up devices this way needs to become simpler and more reliable.

After Palm, occupying the number one PDA position, Sony with its Palm OS-based Clie devices has grown its market share most impressively, up to second place worldwide in Q4 and third place in Europe.

HP's iPaq, while still the second best seller in Europe, has fallen back around 28 percent in sales terms year-on-year, both in Europe and worldwide. Despite Compaq's early success with the device and HP's withdrawal of its similar Jornada -- which should have given iPaq a further boost -- Canalys director and senior analyst Chris Jones explained: "Pocket PC vendors are finding it harder to differentiate themselves."

Yet while Palm and Sony's relative success suggests a strong position for the Palm operating system, Dell's preliminary sales for its Axim Pocket PC-based device show perhaps the industry is no nearer to seeing a clear PDA OS winner.

In the smart-phone arena -- where a mobile phone form factor is more prominent than computing or PDA features -- the Orange SPV's debut (grabbing 5 percent market share for voice-centric devices) in October also throws another factor into the mix: the smartphone OS, in that case the Microsoft Smartphone 2002 OS.

IDC European Smart Handheld Devices research analyst Tim Mui forecasts: "The introduction of new devices such as the Sony Ericsson P800 and other Symbian and Smartphone 2002-based devices will drive the momentum of the converged device market in coming quarters."

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