Palmtop Computers Will Win the Mobile Computing War: Study

Sales of palmtop computers will explode in the next three years, according to a new study by Cahners In-stat Group, leaving handheld PCs in the rearview mirror. Rapid advances in technology will add new capabilities, such as increasing access to wireless Internet service, digital music and the addition of voice capabilities via integrated phone modules, while at the same time lowering prices.

The size of the worldwide mobile computing device market increased 36 percent between 1999 and 2000, according to Cahners, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based digital communications research firm. Cahners' study, "Mobile Computing Devices: A New Era in Personal Computing," reports that palmtops will be the most popular mobile computing product, with sales growing an average of 28 percent annually through 2004. It further predicts that sales of handheld PCs will decline an average of 7.3 percent during that period, with the number of units sold dropping from 1.2 million in 1999 to 810,000 in 2004.

The study also predicts that more than 51 percent of the mobile computing devices shipped in 2004 will be wirelessly enabled.

Kirsten Cloninger, industry analyst for Cahners' e-business user interface service, predicts that wireless devices will take on increasing importance within the corporate market because the mobile workforce is definitely growing.

"Whether it is a traveling salesman, a manager or a telecommuter, these people want access to information anytime, anywhere," she said. "Therefore, there will be a demand for these capabilities to be available in wireless devices."

Palm will continue to hold the largest share of the palmtop market, the study says, but Handspring and Windows CE palmtops will continue to make inroads. Palm's overall share has slipped from 72 percent in 1999 to 65 percent in 2000.

Unfortunately, says Cloninger, the available equipment will have some limitations. "Keep in mind that a PDA is not a laptop. The robust applications and solutions will have to be stripped down and they will deliver what is most pertinent to the mobile worker," she explains.

Robyn Bergeron, Cahners' e-business computing infrastructure analyst, says that for the new devices to be useful to the mobile workforce, they must be kept "straightforward and simple, otherwise these workers may as well go back to calling the office."

Cloninger agrees: "It is an emerging market, and it is an infantile market, especially for field force automation. Wireless devices definitely will have specialized applications designed for mobile workers, but success in this space depends on how applicable and available information is."

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