Gartner's Q2 view of PDA market lifted by wireless

Wireless PDAs are lifting the overall market as users dump their older devices, according to Gartner.

While shipments of unconnected personal digital assistants (PDAs) are falling fast, PDAs with any type of wireless radio are a big hit with both corporate users and trendy quasi-celebrities, according to research released Tuesday by Gartner.

Shipments of PDAs reached 3.6 million units, a rise of 32 percent as compared to the previous year, said Todd Kort, principal analyst with Gartner. This stands in sharp contrast to results posted by IDC last week that showed a precipitous drop in PDA shipments, but the two companies look at the market in very different ways.

According to Gartner, a PDA is "a data-centric handheld computer weighing less than one pound that is primarily designed for use with both hands," the company said in a press release. This definition does not include devices such as Palm Inc.'s Treo 650 or Research in Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry 7100, which are smart phones in Gartner's way of thinking, Kort said.

IDC, on the other hand, calls a PDA a pocket-sized device that synchronizes with a PC but doesn't include voice capabilities. Shipments of these devices are falling as mobile phones grow more sophisticated and include many of the traditional PDA features such as calendars and contact databases, according to both Gartner and IDC.

So in Gartner's results, RIM led the worldwide market in the second quarter with 840,000 units shipped, ahead of Palm. RIM's BlackBerry devices allow corporate users to wirelessly send and receive e-mail stored on company networks. Some newer BlackBerry models, such as the BlackBerry 7100, also include voice capabilities, but most people see the BlackBerry as a data-centric device and actually carry a separate mobile phone to make calls, Kort said.

Palm is reaching a transition point in its history, as it shifts from making unconnected PDAs to making smart phones such as the Treo 650. Gartner didn't include shipments of the Treos in its research, but Palm will probably sell more Treos than PDAs in 2006, Kort said. Palm's PDA shipments fell 30 percent in the second quarter to 642,020 units, which was still enough to edge out the 450,513 units shipped by Hewlett-Packard in the quarter.

Nokia made it onto Gartner's list of the top five vendors based on the strength of demand for its 9300 and 9500 devices, Kort said. Nokia calls the 9300 a smart phone on its Web page, but the 9300 can be used as a two-handed e-mail device when unfolded. The 9500 uses a similar design.

Nokia was also the glad recipient of a surge in European PDA buying, Kort said. PDA vendors shipped 94 percent more units to Europe than in the previous year, as compared to a tepid 1.3 percent increase in the U.S. Favorable currency rates and an increasing number of companies shipping low-cost PDAs based on Microsoft Corp.'s CE operating system helped boost shipments in Europe, Kort said.

T-Mobile International came in fifth on Gartner's list, edging out Dell. T-Mobile's strength in Europe played a role in its ascendance, but the company also was helped by an increase in shipments of its Sidekick II in the U.S. after hotel heiress Paris Hilton's Sidekick II voice-mail account was hacked and her e-mail messages posted on the Internet.

Despite the privacy implications of the security breach voiced by concerned T-Mobile users, the event proved the old adage about the benefits of even negative attention, Kort said.

"The Paris Hilton incident seems to be a case in which bad publicity is better than no publicity at all," he said. "It raised awareness in such a way that millions of dollars couldn't do."

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