Smart device sales soar

Analysts call for more enterprise-grade voice-centric devices, as the distinction between PDAs and smartphones becomes blurred
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Demand for smartphones and PDAs is continuing to grow rapidly, according to the latest statistics from analyst firm Gartner.

Smartphone sales have already increased by 75.5 percent in the last year to 37.4 million units, and will grow by a further 66 percent during 2006, the statistics indicated.

Sales of PDAs also continue to grow — by 5.7 percent in the last year to 7.4 million units. Growth of 6.3 percent is predicted for 2006, as PDAs continue to be eclipsed by more voice-centric smartphones.

The distinction between PDAs and smartphones is increasingly unclear, as both product types gain new features and converge on each other.

Gartner defines a smartphone as "a large-screen, voice-centric handheld device designed to offer complete phone functions while simultaneously functioning as a personal digital assistant", and a PDA as "a handheld computer that serves as an organiser and electronic notepad".

But these definitions are less clear than they may appear, as Gartner reported that "53 percent of all PDAs shipped in the first half of 2006 featured integrated cellular capability, up from 46 percent during the same period in 2005".

"We classify them after looking at the primary purpose of the device, which is reflected in the design of the device," said Roberta Cozza, co-author of the report, on Monday, adding: "There are users that make their buying decisions after looking at the form factor".

Cozza conceded that "all categorisations are, at the end of the day, arbitrary," but insisted that Gartner's classifications reflected differing trends between types of devices, noting that Symbian dominates the smartphone market while Microsoft has the lead in the PDA field.

"PDAs started as a consumer phenomenon, but are now being more chosen by enterprise users, and this is being driven by wireless email. With regards to smartphones… we see that the market is currently still mostly driven by consumer purchases. What we would expect to see going forward, as Microsoft gets its act together, is more enterprise-grade smartphones in 2007," she told ZDNet UK.

The only market where sales of PDAs continue to outstrip those of smartphones is in North America, which represented 45 percent of the worldwide market for PDAs in the first half of 2006.

The worldwide market leader across both device types continues to be Nokia, which accounted for 42 percent of PDA and smartphone sales in the first half of 2006 and which represents half the global smartphone market.

However, the fastest growing smartphone vendor is Motorola. It saw shipments rocket by 103.5 percent in the first half of this year, thanks to sales of Linux-based phones in China. The report's authors note that Motorola's Microsoft and Symbian-based devices have had relatively lacklustre success.

Blackberry manufacturer RIM continues to command the PDA market with 13.5 percent year-on-year growth, but Palm's share of the PDA market fell "as the company shifted its focus on sales of its Treo smartphones, which accounted for 57 percent of Palm's mobile device shipments in the first half of 2006", according to principal Gartner analyst Todd Kort.

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