PDAs Gain Ground in Europe, but Lose Worldwide
By Eric Lin, Tue Apr 27 22:30:00 GMT 2004

Worldwide sales of PDAs in Q1 fell over last year's figures, while sales of smartphones (at least in Europe) leapt. While we wait for worldwide smartphone sales, we take a look at the markets so far.

IDC Reports that world wide, first quarter shipments of data-centric handhelds dropped 12% over Q1 last year and 33% from the previous quarter. However Canalys reports that in Europe alone, handheld shipments increased 33% over the same quarter last year. Shipments to the Americas and Asia must have slumped quite a bit to make up this loss. However it should be noted that IDC claims European shipments only grew 25%, which makes up for some of the discrepancy. Despite this slump, shipment of low-end handhelds (those under USD 300) were quite strong.

The overall drop is not that surprising, since this data only includes data-centric devices; it does not include the sales of smartphones or PDA-phones (which are lumped into the smartphone category by analysts now). Smartphone shipments in Europe were up 83% over the same quarter last year according to the Canalys report. Figures for Q1 worldwide smartphone shipments are not available from any analysts yet.

While many pundits would love to claim the continual decline of data-centric devices spells the death of the PDA in favor of smartphones, that is over-simplifying the situation. Smartphones are a new device category that is certainly eating into the sales of PDAs, but it's unlikely to render them completely obsolete. However the smartphone will force PDA manufacturers to offer new features that current smartphones can't compete with- like large, high-resolution screens or GPS systems, according to IDC. These are the features now found in many high-end PDAs, so why are saIes of the low end devices so popular?

One of our best guesses is sync software. Most low-end PDA buyers are just trying to get their contacts and calendar into a mobile device. Apple's iSync makes this easy for smartphone users who have Mac OS X, but most users have Windows PCs. There is no simple sync solution for Outlook to sync to Series 60 phones (which make up the largest share of smartphone market by far). It's possible that a reputation for poor desktop software has caused many buyers to choose adding a low end PDA instead of trading in their feature phone for a smartphone. A column in Mobile Pipeline suggests that it isn't just data syncing, but data entry. Many novice mobile device users find data entry easier on PDAs than they do on smartphones.