WIRELESS WORLD: Handhelds drop off

WIRELESS WORLD: Handhelds drop off

The headline says it all: “Worldwide PDA market declined 9.1 per cent in 2002.” This title is from a market analysis report from Gartner. IDC numbers are even gloomier, showing a 12 per cent decline in year-over-year units shipped.

There are a number of relevant reasons for this decreasing market, in which Palm, Sony, HP, Toshiba, or Casio are the top five.

Reason No. 1: Enterprise-level companies that buy units in the thousands are finding better ways to solve their mobile problems.

Roto-Rooter, a Cincinnati-based company with $280 million in revenue, selected a Java-enabled Nextel phone over a handheld with eTrace from Gearworks. Roto-Rooter will deploy the Nextels in its field force.

Cost was the primary reason given by the CIO, Steve Poppe, but he also said: “We couldn’t find something that was as simple. Everybody carries a cell phone.”

Reason No. 2: Real work requires real computers. Now that we have the phenomenon of both wireless LANs and 2.5G and 3G data services, gaining access to the corporate network is getting less and less problematic.

Boeing and Lufthansa announced that they will roll out Wi-Fi on their transatlantic flights for about $US32.50 per flight. British Airways, Japan Airlines, and Scandinavian Airlines will follow suit a bit later in the year, and US carriers will join in before the end of the year.

Xacct is the software supplier and Cisco is the hardware supplier for Boeing’s and Lufthansa’s Wi-Fi rollout. Chicago-based Boeing, the prime contractor, will retrofit the planes with Wi-Fi hubs, wiring, and power. The aircraft will be Internet-enabled via Boeing’s satellite network, which will deliver 20GB of spectrum to each plane. Each plane has up to 20Mbps downlink and 2Mbps uplink of shared bandwidth, enough for DSL quality at just about every seat.

“The vision is to offer totally transparent services as if you were sitting in your office,” senior vice-president of marketing and business technology at Xacct, Anil Uberoy said.

That kind of capability makes the notebook, not the handheld, the single most important device you can have, perhaps after a cell phone.

Reason No. 3: Wireless data cards in notebooks offer ubiquitous access. Vice-president of engineering at Overture Services, Danny Gumport, uses his Verizon 1xRT card in a notebook. As he said, “You avoid the need to go to a hot spot.”

Gumport also reinforced Reason No. 1. “I debated between getting a wireless handheld with the Verizon card, but with the amount of spreadsheet and Word docs I do … for real stuff, you need a real computer behind it,” he said.

Gumport added that although he could view all his email on a handheld, he couldn’t execute on 80 per cent of it: “It’s very aggregating,” he said.

Reason No. 4: Bluetooth will be in both cell phones and notebooks before too long. If you’re currently using one of each, why not use the cell phone for short bursts of data and have the notebook access the handset as your modem when you need to do more serious work?

Handhelds won’t go away. But the giant spikes in sales that we saw in 1999 and 2000 are probably a thing of the past. My grandchildren will probably look at handhelds sitting behind a display case in a museum dedicated to early electronic gadgets.

Do you agree or not? Send me e-mail and let me know.

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