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Will PDAs Become a Historical Footnote?

PDA designs improved, screens got better, storage expanded and devices
got faster. Despite some promise, though, the PDA market never has
seemed to reach its potential. In fact, those who detest the technology
probably outnumber the people who love their PDAs. A few years from now,
we might reflect on the PDA and wonder aloud why marketing managers ever
thought it would succeed.

The Mobile Observer

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Recent news does not necessarily signal the end of the PDA, but it
certainly isn't very encouraging. Last week's one-two punch of market
reports by IDC and Dataquest sent a clear message: The PDA is not alive
and well. IDC estimated the worldwide market for PDAs had declined by
nearly 18 percent in 2003, down to 10.4 million units. Gartner's numbers
weren't quite as bleak. It pegged the annual decline at 5.3 percent.
With over 10 million units, there's still some money to be made, but
demand is soft from the low-end consumer market through the high-end
enterprise market.

The problem lies largely in functionality. Over 10 years into the
product development cycle, the vast majority of today's PDAs are
glorified personal organizers rather than the communicators Apple
originally had envisioned. Fewer and fewer people seem inclined to shell
out the time and money to maintain a PDA.

Many users have turned to a new generation of ultra-portable notebook
computers. While these devices aren't nearly as convenient as a handheld
PDA, they offer much greater functionality when you're away from the
office. Many have tried, but very few mobile professionals were ever
able to wean themselves from their notebooks in favor of PDAs. Oh sure,
they might carry their PDA to business meetings--maybe even use it to
check e-mail over a wireless network. But tucked somewhere safely in a
briefcase or travel-bag was their notebook, ready to take on the
computing and communications needs from the relative comfort of the
hotel room.

Another threat came from the so-called purpose-built device, the most
popular manifestation of which has been the RIM Blackberry. While the
PDA market was declining in 2003, RIM managed to increase its shipments
by 121 percent, according to IDC, refuting the contention that the PDA
sales decline is related to an overall economic slowdown. Instead, RIM
demonstrated that when you optimize a device design to support a
specific task, you can achieve considerable success. Although there
might be some argument, the clear market perception is that RIM does
mobile e-mail better than anyone else.

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