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Sun 9 Mar 2003 04:00 AM

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Making the most of the PDA

The Personal Data Assistant (PDA) market is set to boom this year, but only if vendors can convince users that they are actually useful for something.

The Personal Data Assistant (PDA) market is set to boom this year, but only if vendors can convince users that they are actually useful for something.

That is the message coming from analyst company In-Stat/MDR, in its latest report on the PDA market, The market is predicted to grow by 18.3% CAGR through to 2007, with this year expected to show the greatest increase in growth rates.

There are two main factors that will drive the anticipated growth. First, the devices are now packing more and more functionality—wireless connectivity allows the user to link instantly to their PC, their phone etc. In 2002 only 15% of PDAs had Internet access capabilities, but this is expected to reach 75% by 2007. Connectivity is essential, as we become more and more used to being able to get services through the web and in managing the data that is on the PDA with as little effort as possible.

Multimedia functionality is also increasing. Apparently it is now very difficult to find a mobile handset in Japan that doesn’t come with a built-camera. Improvements to software, more integration of components, and increased flash memory capacity are all making multimedia applications more feasible for PDAs.

The second element that In-Stat/MDR believes will drive the market is price. PDA manufacturers have been facing some tight competition in recent years, but with the introduction of Pocket PC, the market has become ever more crowded. Now the manufacturers are looking for new segments to sell into, and so In-Stat/MDR expects them to take a hit on margins to bring the price down for low-end models, to open up the consumer market.

But key to all of this is convincing the end user about the usefulness of the PDA. I was recently speaking to a doctor, who was a big fan of his Palm PDA. The device, he said, allowed him to carry a huge amount of medical applications in a very handy form, that he could carry with him as he went about his work in the hospital.

Interestingly, the PDA was not supplied by the hospital, it was the doctor’s own, and all the applications loaded on the Palm were downloaded for free from the Internet, but he still regarded it as an essential tool for his job.

As an advert for the Palm, the doctor couldn’t get any better, and its through people like him that I think the PDA market is most likely to grow. While enterprise level deployments of PDAs are on the increase, it is the end user that has to be convinced of their usefulness. With growing competition from the mobile phone market, the end user has to make a choice between devices, and vendors and resellers need to get the message across about the power of the PDA if they are going to drive the market growth that the analysts predict.

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