Palm winning handheld war

Palm winning handheld war

With several vendors abandoning the Windows CE palm-size PC market, and with electronics giant Sony signing up to use Palm Computing's platform, Microsoft appears to be losing the battle of the handhelds.

Sony recently announced it will license the Palm operating system for its consumer handheld devices and more than a dozen vendors showed hardware, software and information services for the Palm platform at Palm's Comdex booth.

Other recent high-profile wins for Palm include Nokia's decision last month to jointly develop cellular phones based on the Palm operating system.

`Palm is doing all the right things,' said David Hayden, an analyst at Mobile Insights in California.

Meanwhile, Windows CE is falling behind.

Market research firm The NPD Group reports that 3Com, parent company of Palm Computing, held 78 per cent of the US market for personal digital assistants (PDAs) in the third quarter, up from 76 per cent the same period a year ago. Devices running Windows CE fell to 15 per cent of the market, down from 22 per cent on the same quarter last year.

The CE platform has been hit by some high-profile desertions, with Royal Philips Electronics in the Netherlands and Everex Systems in California abandoning the palm-size PC market.

Those desertions don't weaken the Windows CE platform, said Brian Shafer, marketing manager at Microsoft's productivity appliances division.

`Between Compaq, Casio and Hewlett-Packard, we feel we have fairly good coverage,' Shafer said.

Windows CE devices have been hobbled by limited battery life and an operating system that isn't simple and stable enough, said Jill House, an analyst at IDC.

Yet corporations eager to develop complex applications for handheld devices may opt for CE's richer platform and popular development tools such as Visual Basic, said House. And Windows CE might see a revival if users start demanding multimedia capabilities and better Internet access, she said.

An update to Windows CE, expected in the first half of next year, is likely to help the platform, Hayden said. It will feature enhancements for the real-time and embedded markets, an area in which CE's fortunes seem brighter. CE is also the operating system for subnotebook devices from vendors like Compaq and Microsoft's Web Companion.

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