Smart Phones May Overtake Handhelds

IT managers everywhere are already cursing the number of handhelds brought in the backdoor by users, and they’re rushing to find ways to make the devices more useful to their operations and easier to support. As if that weren’t problem enough, soon there’ll be a smart phone population explosion to deal with. A smart phone is a data-enabled cellular phone that allows Web browsing and e-mail access, data manipulation, and use of personal information manager (PIM) software.

Two separate market projections released recently show tremendous growth in handheld and smart phone sales, which analysts say will require unprepared IT managers to get a better handle on the situation. Dataquest Inc. put worldwide sales of handheld computers at 21 million in 2003, up from nearly 4 million last year. Meanwhile, International Data Corp. projected that nearly 19 million handhelds will sell in 2003, up from 4.3 million last year. And IDC released a separate study that says 654,000 smart phones sold worldwide in 1998 and that sales are expected to reach 12.9 million units in 2003.

Handhelds generally are defined to include personal companions like the PalmPilot from Palm Computing Inc., a 3Com Corp. company, and PC companions with keyboards, which include a wide variety of Windows CE machines sold by many vendors.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner in Stamford, Connecticut, said the market projections point out that IT “needs to keep on top of the handheld and smart phone phenomenon because we clearly don’t know where it’s going yet.” He added, “Companies are going to need a strategy to deal with these.

“The real story is smart phones,” Dulaney said. “They will dwarf handhelds because so many people already carry a cellular phone.” About 200 million cellular phones are in use today. He predicts three times as many smart phones will sell in 2003 than handhelds, though Dataquest hasn’t done any smart-phone projections, a spokeswoman said.

Making a handheld computer, such as the Palm VII, into a wireless data browsing device, is much more complicated than adding the relatively simple functions of a PIM to a wireless phone, Dulaney said.