Talk About Selling PDAs
By Eric Lin, Wed Aug 20 01:30:00 GMT 2003

This week quarterly sales data has been released by the analysts, and the numbers appear to support the old cliche: when it comes to mobile devices, voice is still the killer app.

Since the first Palm launched, analysts have strongly supported the PDA market, predicting strong sales figures, and even sales growth. Back when phones, especially those in the U.S., were dumb terminals users needed an additional device to access their data on the go. Even as phones became more capable and hybrid devices began to emerge, analysts were slow to see the impending doom for unconnected PDAs. However over the past year, declining PDA sales has started to affect their opinion.

For the majority of the population, PDAs have limited appeal. Unconnected PDAs are data devices; they don’t enable communication, which human nature (and sales figures) tells us is a driving force behind purchasing decisions. While most people are compelled to carry communication devices, far fewer need any data access on the go. Manufacturers are now adding Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to PDAs, finally connecting devices to the world outside. But this small step is only appealing to those who can afford to own and carry more than one communication device, most prefer to carry just one thing- typically a handset.

IDC’s quarterly study says that while PDA sales are expected to shrink 8.4% this year, sales of smart phones and PDA phones are expected to grow for years to come. To increase sales, manufacturers need to create communication devices, not just data devices. According to Gartner’s study, sales of Research in Motion’s Blackberry have more than doubled over this quarter last year now that they’ve added voice to their connected platform. Gartner also points out that following this success and shrinking sales of their own platform, other manufacturers are on the voice bandwagon right behind them.

During today’s launch webcast, Anssi Vanjoki pointed out that people respond to their five senses, and while there’s no particular sense for text, there is one tuned for voice communication. The numbers are showing this makes an impact on mobile devices sales, but voice (and also video) communication is starting to make an impact on the desktop too. Popular IM clients such as MSN Messenger and Apple’s iChat AV have been adding voice and video chat, creating new cults around these products.

Since it stimulates more senses, could video chat be mobile technology’s next killer app?