Will Vaio replace Clie?

commentary Palm OS certainly took a blow this week when Sony decided to dump its Clie handhelds, but is Sony planning to release handhelds under a different banner?Sony's decision to exit the personal digital assistant (PDA) market by discontinuing its Clie line of handhelds in all countries except Japan wasn't surprising.

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commentary Palm OS certainly took a blow this week when Sony decided to dump its Clie handhelds, but is Sony planning to release handhelds under a different banner?

Sony's decision to exit the personal digital assistant (PDA) market by discontinuing its Clie line of handhelds in all countries except Japan wasn't surprising. Afterall, the odds have be stacked against the giant electronics maker for some time.

Declining sales, tough competition, and an overall sluggish PDA market finally took its toll on Sony. And the numbers speak for themselves. According to research firm Gartner, in the first quarter of 2004, the company had a mere 8 percent market share of the overall handheld pie.

One company not pleased with the announcement is PalmSource, makers of Palm OS -- the operating system at the core of Clie devices. Sony was PalmSource's second biggest licensee after PalmOne.

Also in the first quarter, market share for the Palm OS dropped more than 20 percent, enabling other PDA-based operating systems such as Windows, Symbian and Linux to widen the gap.

While PDA shipments have been dwindling, smart phones -- pocket-sized devices which marry voice and data applications -- have increased in popularity.

In fact, Sony Ericsson, a partnership between Sony and Ericsson, have a mobile phone which operates on the Symbian platform called P900. If Clie handhelds were to enter the convergence arena, Sony Ericsson's sales could have been cannibalised.

But perhaps, this leaves the door wide open for Sony Ericsson to develop more personal computing-oriented communication devices -- an area where Clie never ventured.

It's unclear if Sony will reconsider its move but the company certainly has big plans to expand its Vaio brand.

Until recently, Vaio only meant notebooks but at a demonstration in Sydney this week, Sony showcased a 20GB hard drive-based portable music player called the Vaio VGF-AP1.

Vaio Type X, a concept device for home entertainment, was also briefly demonstrated. The Type X is a desktop with over 1TB (yes, terabyte) of hard disk space and multiple TV tuners, allowing it to record several TV programs simultaneously.

Now that Clie is being laid to rest, it is possible to expect more developments from Sony Ericsson's line of smart phones. And perhaps, in time, Vaio can make up for Clie's shortcomings.

What do you think? Did Sony make the right decision by dumping Clie? Is the PDA market dying a slow death? Send your thoughts to edit@zdnet.com.au.