Say goodbye to the handheld PC

"Bigger is better" is not an axiom that usually applies to the mobile electronics market.

But handhelds, such as Hewlett-Packard's HWP LX line, may be in danger of being phased out in favour of bigger machines.

"Those (handheld PCs) are eventually going to be squeezed out of the market", siad Mike McGuire, director of mobile products at market researcher Dataquest.

The problem with handhelds are plentiful: The keyboards are too small to use, screen resolution is low, and there are few other features. Instead, explained McGuire, users will either use a palm-sized PC, such as 3Com Corp's (COMS) Palm III, or a companion notebook that sports Windows CE operating system, or both.

The companion notebook is a new concept, but is catching on in the market. Smaller than a laptop and bigger than a handheld PC, companion notebooks are intended to give mobile workers a usable, but still very portable, size.

Already, Hitachi and NEC have release devices that fall into this class. Based on Windows CE 2.0, the devices have larger keyboards, larger screens, and have support for a monitor - making presentations using the devices possible.

The devices are a logical, if incremental, improvement of today's handhelds, McGuire said.

By all accounts, the handheld computer has not done very well. Last year, Microsoft claims to have shipped 500,000 units of its Windows CE for handhelds, but only 375,000 were sold, according to Tim Bajarin, president and industry analyst of market researcher Creative Technologies Inc. Analysts also say once-popular systems from Psion PLC and Sharp have failed.

Maeanwhile, Bajarin estimates some 1.6 million PalmPilots have been sold since US Robotics, a 3Com subsidiary, introduced the series two years ago.

Dataquest's McGuire calls the NEC's MobilePro 700 and Hitcahi's HPW-200EC the first of what will be an avalanche of companion notebooks due out this year. By 2001, Dataquest estimates sales of portable devices will hit 8 million.

"Over time, users are going to settle n this or a palm-sized PC product," said McGuire. "There willl be little in between".

Mobile Computing Week on ZDNet