A new report from market research firm Gartner, Inc. finds that PDA shipments increased by 21 percent worldwide during the third quarter of 2005, a 20.7 percent increase over the same period in 2004. At current rates, more than 15 million PDAs will ship during 2005, surpassing the PDA’s best sales year to date, 2001, by nearly 2 million units.
Of course, Gartner’s findings beg the question, “What’s a PDA these days?” Smartphones, GPS devices, and even media players are taking on PDA-like characteristics: even an iPod can hold your phone numbers. For the purposes of its report, Gartner defines a PDA as a data-centric handheld computer under one pound designed for use with both hands. These devices use an open market operating system for which third-party applications are available. Further, Gartner’s PDAs must offer instant on/off capability and synchronize data with a PC. PDAs may offer voice features, but they’re foremost devices built around data. So, Palm’s Treo 650 and RIM’s BlackBerry 7100 don’t count, but HP’s iPaq 65xx and the Nokia 9300 do.
“The rapid spread of wireless e-mail and use of GPS-enabled PDAs, which offer most of the functionality of dedicated car navigation systems at a fraction of the cost, is propelling the PDA market to record growth,” said Todd Kort of Gartner’s Computing Platforms Worldwide group.
Gartner found that Research in Motion’s BlackBerry shipments grew by a startling 52.6 percent in the third quarter, extending the company’s lead as the top PDA vendor worldwide even as the company battled a significant patent infringement claim in the U.S. market. RIM’s shipments alone account for nearly half the PDA sector’s worldwide growth in from one year ago. However, RIM itself is shifting its emphasis towards smartphones, announcing recent deals with both Palm and Nokia, so RIM’s BlackBerry shipments were up only 3 percent sequentially. T-Mobile also showed strong gains, moving into a fourth place position by shipping more than 200,000 units of its SideKick II and Pocket PC Phone Edition, with dark horse Nokia right behind with 200,000 shipped units of its Nokia 9300 wireless PDA.
Who are the losers in the PDA area? HP’s iPaq shipments dropped 20.0 percent in the third quarter of this year, and Palm’s shipments declined 36.6 percent.
Microsoft remains the leading PDa operating system vendor, accounting for 49.2 percent of the operating systems shipped on PDAs worldwide in the third quarter. RIM came in second at 25, Palm OS third at 14.9 percent, and players such as Symbian and Linux register in the low (and very low) single digits.
Gartner’s Kort said “Europe is catching up with North America in terms of usage of PDAs in vertical markets and cellular PDAs.” The Western European market grew by 53.4 percent during the quarter, and accounted for over one third of worldwide shipments. PDA shipments to western Europe during the quarter amounted to 1.2 million units; the United States accounted for 1.4 million units in the same period.