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Handheld Device Market Continues to Decline

The worldwide handheld computer device market slumped further at the close of 2006, despite several notable vendors posting seasonal increases in shipments.

According to IDC's Worldwide Handheld QView, vendors shipped 5.5 million units in 2006, down 28.5 percent from the 7.6 million units shipped in 2005. For the quarter ending December 31, 2006, vendors shipped a total of 1.5 million units, or 35.9 percent less than the 2.3 million units shipped during 4Q05.

"The handheld devices market is under intense pressure from networked mobile devices," says Ramon Llamas, research analyst with IDC's Mobile Devices Technology and Trends team.

Features found on handheld devices, including personal information management (PIM) functionality, multimedia, and Bluetooth connectivity have also been included on converged mobile phone devices (commonly known as smartphones) and high-end phones.

The proliferation of notebook computers with embedded wireless WiFi has also allowed users to remain connected while on the go, further reducing the demand for handheld devices. Finally, GPS devices have gained momentum in the marketplace, and also negatively impacted handheld devices.

"Handheld vendors have expanded their portfolios to include networked devices, and put greater focus on the latter," adds Llamas. "In some cases, a vendor has put more resources to developing its converged mobile device portfolio while its handheld device portfolio has remained largely unchanged. In other cases, a vendor's total shipments for handheld devices have been less than for its personal navigation devices."

Looking ahead, IDC expects this downward trend to continue in 2007. That said, I firmly believe that there is still a market for handheld computers, like the Dell Axim X30 that I use every day in my digital lifestyle.

While many who favor separating the mobile phone from the handheld computing device say that the primary reason is poor battery life on converged devices (i.e. the smartphone), I would add that purpose built devices currently have significant advantages for professional users.

I rarely travel with a notebook computer. My mobile phone, my pocket PC (with folding keyboard) and my USB flash drive provides everything that I need while on the road.

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