IDC has touted the smart handheld device (SHD) market as being resistant to the Asian financial crisis with a recent report calculating a growth rate of 37.5 per cent taking the market up to 158,000 unit shipments in the Asia-Pacific region for 1998.
According to IDC figures, the major burden of growth was placed squarely on the small shoulders of personal companions, with pocket-sized devices such as the 3Com Palm Pilot growing at a rate of 180 per cent to represent 58 per cent of the overall smart handheld market.
IDC attributed the disproportionate growth in this segment to the release of Microsoft's Windows CE platform, which attracted new competitors to a market previously dominated by 3Com. According to IDC, Windows CE and 3Com's Palm OS platforms each accounted for a third of the handheld devices in the Asia-Pacific region. 3Com maintained its leadership position in the personal companion market but Windows CE led in the other SHD categories of PC companions and PDAs.
"Windows CE has enabled a variety of vendors to offer products to the Asian marketplace.
"The result has been greater product awareness, more product availability and extended channels of distribution," said Frederique Jacquot, senior market analyst at IDC.
Casio, Philips and Sharp were the most successful entrants into the SHD market, according to IDC, with the analyst predicting new products from Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, Legend and IBM will further fuel growth in 1999.
Market leader 3Com has a vision to extend the industry to the point of being an integral component of the enterprise infrastructure, moving the product away from what was initially a gadget concept.
"More and more users are adopting these devices to fit into their infrastructure, using them for things like rolling out applications. We will see them used more and more for e-commerce as well," claims 3Com's chief operating officer Bruce Claflin.
The smart handheld market is also expanding geographically, with Australia the largest SHD market in the region followed by Singapore and Hong Kong.
Yet China is the fastest adopter of the devices, which was again prompted by the release of a Chinese version of Windows CE.
IDC predictions for handheld market
Shipments of handheld companions climbed to 31 000 unitsHandheld companions market worth $25MCompound annual growth from 1998 to 2003 of handheld companions is expected to be 57 per centPC companions register a lower growth rate than handheld companionsMarket inhibitors include confusion over the difference between personal companions and electronic organisers.