Fickle China market hits Asian PDA sales

Sales of personal digital assistants (PDAs) in the Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) region fell by 22 per cent in the first quarter of 2003 mainly due to a slump in demand for these products in China, according to research released Wednesday by Gartner Inc.

Unit sales of PDAs fell to 435,089 units from the 556,269 units recorded in the first quarter of 2002, with unit sales in China falling by over 50 per cent, Gartner said.

According to Gartner, factors inhibiting sales included:

— PDAs were regarded as trendy gifts in 2002, but were replaced on gift lists in 2003 by digital cameras.

— buyers were cautious because of the war in Iraq

— consumers shied away from cheap proprietary PDAs as they waited for devices based on standards such as Palm OS and Pocket PC.

The slump in China and the desire for standards-based PDAs hit the small vendors hardest. In the first quarter of 2002, vendors outside the top four accounted for 65.3 per cent of the Asia-Pacific PDA market. One year later, they accounted for 58.7 per cent of the reduced market, their unit sales down by 30 per cent.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) bucked the downward trend, increasing sales by 28 per cent to overtake former market leader Palm Inc., whose sales fell by 34 per cent over the year.

HP was helped by strong acceptance of its iPaq H1900 PDA, which appealed to buyers due to its price point and slim form factor. By contrast, Palm was held back by poor sales of its Tungsten T PDA, whose price put off buyers, Gartner said.

South Korean vendor Cyberbank Corp. more than doubled its unit sales over the year to become the third-largest vendor ahead of Hong Kong-based Group Sense (International) Ltd. (GSL) whose sales fell 36 per cent over the year.According to Gartner, the Asia-Pacific PDA market has begun to mature and is unlikely to return to the high growth seen in earlier years.