Handheld devices must do more, says IDC

But developing a single handheld device that can perform a variety of functions, such as making phone calls and managing one's schedule and contacts, has proven difficult for vendors, with many users opting to carry two or more specialised devices (such as a mobile phone and a PDA) instead, according to Weili Su, senior analyst for smart handheld devices at research firm IDC, speaking at the Computex exhibition here Thursday.

"Users are looking for devices to do more," said Su. "The bar has been raised."

The reason users want additional functionality is because they don't want to carry multiple devices around with them, Su said. A majority of users surveyed by IDC have said they would prefer a single device that combined the function of a phone with that of a personal information manager, she said, adding that vendors must include these functions in a device that is small, affordable and easy to use.

One example of how vendors are trying to meet this demand is through the introduction of smart phones, such as Microsoft's Stinger platform, which is based on Windows CE 3.0, and Symbian's Crystal smart-phone reference design. Both Stinger and Crystal incorporate e-mail, calendar and Web browsing functions in a mobile phone.

But while smart phones may address the increased functionality users crave, they must come to grips with the reality that 3G (third-generation) mobile telecommunication services are not going to live up to vendor hype, Su said, explaining that 3G data services are likely to be expensive and slower than expected due to network capacity constraints.

Overall, the worldwide market for PDAs (personal digital assistants) and other handheld computing devices is expected to grow substantially in coming years, vendors will faced growing competition from new form factors, more competitors and the challenge of breaking into the mass consumer market, in addition to the challenge of meeting users' expectations, Su said.

"What was once a market of one dominating vendor is now being pushed forward by several strong players," said Su, citing the recent success of Microsoft's Pocket PC platform and the Blackberry RIM device (yet to be released in Australia) in penetrating the market for handheld computing devices, which has been dominated in recent years by Palm.

Computex continues through Friday, June 8.

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