PDAs to get people talking, not typing: report

Wireless-connected PDAs will be used more for chatting on the phone and instant messaging and less for e-mail and word processing, according to a U.S. study.

San Francisco-based Ferris Research released the report’s findings on Thursday, which studied the prospects of PDA applications. It found that while people will use their handhelds for e-mail, such use will be “limited.”

“The reason it will be limited is because PDAs are going to be widely restrictive on how easy it is to type things in and how easy it is going to be to view attachments,” said Ferris Research president David Ferris. “They have small screens and keyboards. When you put those constraints on, well, there are a lot of e-mails where you simply want to have a keyboard to reply. It is just inconvenient.”

He said the PDA is fine for short replies, but, in addition to constrictive keyboard capabilities, it is difficult to view attachments on a PC, let alone on a small screen.

Richard Rabinovitch, Palm Canada’s eastern region manager for partner and enterprise markets in Montreal, said that if anything, PDAs make e-mail more, not less, convenient.

“Based on my experience, it is something that people feel they need because they are more and more mobile these days,” he said. “They want to do this at their own convenience.”

Rabinovitch added that there are many tools and attachments available now that actually make documents “a good read” as far as high-quality visuals are concerned.

“It comes out quite legible,” he said.

Ferris’ findings also show that use of features like address books, personal calendars and scheduling, along with location-sensitive applications like road maps, will continue to be popular.

However, Ferris expects the ability of PDAs to help people cut down on the number of devices they carry with them to be their biggest advantage.

“Conceptually, what is happening is that one box is going to contain everything,” he said. “The phone maintains a wireless connection and that connection is going to be used for data connections and the phone contains a microphone, and that will be shared as well. One set of equipment will be used by all applications.”

While Rabinovitch said this market already exists, he is apprehensive about some “all-in-one” issues.

“There are some out there, but it is a personal preference,” he said, noting that it takes only one system problem to disable such a device, leaving the user with no ability to communicate.

Although portable Web browsing isn’t a popular idea now, Rabinovitch said users will often do direct data-searches to get just information from their handhelds, instead of graphics.

“With a more and more mobile workforce – about 75 per cent of the workforce and 25 per cent of the planet is mobile – people need to access their information from their work, but they are never there,” he said. “They need to get to critical information.”

Palm shipped 6.4 million Palm handhelds during fiscal year 2001, bringing the total number of Palm-branded handhelds shipped to-date to approximately 13.7 million.

Although he hasn’t done any studies on market saturation, Ferris said he expects that 50 per cent to 75 per cent of cell phone users will soon be PDA users.

“It will still grow and I think there will be other applications that will drive PDA growth and wireless, which is good news for service providers,” he said.

Ferris Research in San Francisco is at http://www.ferris.com/

Palm Canada is at http://www.palm.com