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Handheld market drops for sixth straight quarter, says IDC

Posted by bboyes on July 28, 2005 at 2:04 PM PDT

According to this article and this article, sales of handheld computing devices are declining about 30 percent year-over-year, and have been so doing for six consecutive quarters. Worldwide, 2.5 million PDAs shipped in 2005 Q1.

But this doesn't mean fewer PDAs are in use, does it? It could mean the market is relatively saturated and that PDAs have a longer life than PCs. Anecdotal information bears this out. Here in our office we all carry Tungsten C PDAs, which have been in production for three years. Try to buy any given laptop PC for that long... We just had one repaired rather than upgrading to a newer model. It's one of the very few (only?) PDAs with built in WiFi -- OK, make that PalmOS PDAs with WiFi.

So perhaps here we have an interesting conundrum - build something with a long life and - guess what - people won't buy as many of them, because they don't need to. Viewed from this perspective, PDAs may be somewhat a victim of their own success. Even Windows variants don't change as rapidly in the handheld sector, do they?

Then too, some largish companies have banned all PDAs because they are capable of storing data, making it easy to steal things. (Hmmm, I wonder if those same progressive companies should go back to punch cards and pencil-and-paper schematics for the same reasons.) Yet those same companies probably buy desktop PCs by the truckload. So there is more demand for PCs than for PDAs.

In fact, worldwide PC sales are up about 15% according to this, at over 45 million units in 2005 Q2. That's almost 20 PCs shipped for every PDA. Let's see, here in my office I have two desktops and one notebook, plus a dead notebook, but only one PDA. Not sure what I'd do with 16 more PCs... Throughout my day, people around me use a lot of PCs (the library, bank, etc) but no one I know conducts commercial business on a PDA, so maybe that's where the other 16 go.

What about "the other white meat" - cell phones? Would you believe 188 million units in 2005 Q2. That's over 4 cell phones shipped for every PC shipped. But I'm guessing a lot fewer people use multiple phones than use multiple PCs. So this means that a lot more people use cell phones, period. If the phone, PDA and PC ever converge, it would make it really hard to analyze these statistics...

- Bruce