A few years ago, Dell burst upon the handheld scene like a rocket. In short order, its Axim series of Pocket PC had pushed the cutting edge to new heights, while at the same time significantly reducing what people expect to pay for a good handheld.
It seemed company was constantly coming out with new models, each better than the last.
Then everything changed. It was like the well ran dry.
It's pretty obvious that Dell isn't going to release any new models in 2006, and the ones it introduced in 2005 were just updated versions of handhelds that had debuted in 2004.
Of course, Dell hasn't left the PDA market yet. It's still offering Axim models on its web site, but, in addition to not introducing a new mobile device in over 12 months, there have been a couple of rumors and unconfirmed reports that these will be the last Dell handhelds.
A Ray of Hope
Taking this all together, I had just about given up hope that there would ever be any more Axims. Then I spied something in IDC's most recent report on the world handheld market:
The company [Dell] has finished phasing out some of the older models from its portfolio and is concentrating on developing the Axim X51 platform with faster processors and more memory.
I couldn't get anyone outside of IDC to confirm this, but it still was enough to renew my faith. It's mighty lite on specifics, but at least there's some solid evidence that we can expect new Pocket PCs from Dell at some point in the future.
So Why the Long Delay?
I'm sure this leaves some people asking the question, if Dell is still actively working on its Axim line, why weren't there any new models this year?
I have a simple answer: it didn't need to. Even though it's been on the market for over a year, the Axim X51v remains the best traditional Pocket PC available. It certainly killed off the iPAQ hx4700, and no other device has seriously challenged its combination of VGA screen, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, multiple slots, and good price.
Plus, seeing as Microsoft hasn't released a significant new version of Windows Mobile since the X51 series came out, Dell really hasn't had come out with upgraded models.
The Enterprise Factor
I was talking about all this with Todd Kort, the principal analyst in Gartner's Computing Platforms Worldwide group, and he gave me another reason why there's less pressure than some might think for companies to update their computing products every year.
Many IT managers won't standardize on a handheld or smartphone unless its manufacturer will guarantee that it will be on the market for at least 18 months. This is understandable, as rolling out a new model in an enterprise environment can be a million dollar proposition, so companies don't want to do it very often.
As Dell sells so many Axims to businesses, it has to keep any model it releases on the shelves for a year and a half. That certainly isn't going to encourage it to frequently refresh its product line.
We'll Know This Fall
Something is going to happen in a few months that's going to put serious pressure on Dell to come out with a new series of Pocket PCs. In a word: Crossbow.
That's the code name for the next major version of Windows Mobile, which Microsoft has promised to introduce in the second half of this year. If Dell doesn't re-fresh its Axims with Crossbow, the argument that its Axims are still the best on the market is going to go out the window.
But, based on that comment from IDC I mentioned earlier, I now expect to see a new series of Axims running Windows Mobile 5.5 (or whatever it's called) on the fastest mobile processors available, and I'm hoping for a significant jump up in internal memory. A few gigabytes would be nice.
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