New converged hand-held devices and smartphones are becoming big business. But getting your business customers to bite will take decent solutions and new partners. Martin Lynch investigates
Notebooks might be the darlings of the channel catwalk at the moment, but there is a whole army of smaller mobile devices that are fast catching the attention (and cash) of IT managers. The new generation of mobile hand-held devices, which broadly encompass a variety of PDAs and smartphones, have started to take off in the business world, thanks to a heady mix of features. These include email, personal information management (PIM) functionality, wireless LAN and mobile support for key front- and back-office applications.
We are not really talking about traditional PDAs, which over the years have had a hard time of it. A traditional PDA (or hand-held, as it is now referred to be the experts) is one with no voice capabilities, although some may have internet access.
According to IDC’s final stats for 2004, the PDA market racked up its third consecutive year of declining sales. Overall, 9.2 million units were shipped in 2004, a decline of 1.4 million (13 per cent) from 2003. It marked a five-year low for the PDA sector, where sales have not fallen below 10 million units since 1999. To top it all off, the world’s number three player, Sony, shocked everyone last summer when it quit the PDA sector and stopped selling its Clie hand-helds in the US and Europe.
Even if you discount the dismal 2001 to 2003 period of economic depression, PDAs were in trouble. With the arrival of a new breed of devices, they still are, but at least now the old PDA is getting a much-needed makeover. The stars of today are the wireless hand-helds such as the Blackberry, and smartphones. The arrival of voice-centric smartphones from the world’s biggest mobile phone operators has turned the market on its head.
Running operating systems from either Symbian or Microsoft, these devices have elevated mobile phone technology into the data-centric device market, which was once dominated by PDAs. Mobile phone makers and operators can smell the cash to be made from convincing businesses that their next phone upgrade should be a smartphone. All of this is very good for them, but where does it leave the channel in the mobile device chain?
Broadly speaking, the mobile device market can be split into three main sectors: data-centric hand-helds that might have some internet/email access (palmOne Tungsten T5, older iPaqs); wireless hand-helds that are data-centric devices with email and voice support (Blackberry, O2 XDA II); and smartphones that are voice-centric devices with added data functionality (Orange c500, Nokia Series 60). There are sub-groups, but these represent the vast majority of sales. You can be forgiven for thinking the whole thing starts to smell like ‘convergence’. This is voice and data convergence in the hand-held space, and just like in the communications sector, it is the future.
The IT channel plays a strong role in delivering hand-helds and wireless hand-held solutions, although with the latter the mobile operators are fast becoming key players.
Whereas traditional PDA sales fell below the 10 million mark last year, Q2 sales of mobile devices (hand-helds, wireless hand-helds and smartphones combined) surged past 10 million, up 82 per cent on Q1, according to the latest figures from Canalys. Within that, traditional PDA sales fell by six per cent, but converged
devices such as wireless hand-helds and smartphones were up a staggering 137 per cent.
The majority of that growth is down to one company: Nokia. The mobile phone giant shipped 5.4 million smart phones in the quarter. Canalys noted that shipments were boosted by another wave of new models, in particular the business-oriented Nokia 9300 clamshell keyboard model, which follows on from the Nokia 9500 communicator launched in Q4 last year. Although most sales were accounted for by the company’s Series 60 smartphones for a more general audience, the Nokia 9300 was snapped up by mobile professionals.
Rachel Lashford, analyst at Canalys, explained: “The way we see it, the majority of growth in the mobile-device arena is coming from smartphones and Nokia is driving much of that growth. It is banging out new models every quarter, mainly second- generation (2G) but now also 3G devices. With the Communicator 9500 and 9300 clamshell device, Nokia is trying to push its way into the enterprise space.”
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