It’s the start of a new year, and Shawn Barnett and I have collaborated on a few predictions for 2005.
Palm OS Shawn and I think the first handheld running Palm OS Cobalt will be released this year. Of course, we said the same thing last year.
Sadly, we also both think that it’s going to be buggy, and early adopters will be forced to install a lot of ROM updates in order to iron out the problems.
Maybe we’re just being pessimistic, but Cobalt is a major re-write of the operating system, and we think significant problems are pretty much inevitable.
Windows Mobile Microsoft is going to release Windows Mobile 2005 this year. This will have some nice improvements, including slightly better versions of the Pocket Office suite. However, I predict it will still lack many of the changes we’ve been hoping for, like a way to easily close running applications.
Microsoft hasn’t publicly committed to any release date for the new version for Windows Mobile, but I’m expecting it sometime this spring/early summer.
Shawn isn’t as optimistic, and predicts it will be delayed to even later in the year. There is some basis for his pessimism; this OS upgrade was originally slated to come out last year.
He also says Microsoft is going to change the name again, but I think he was just feeling sarcastic. I think we’d all agree that there have been enough name changes from Microsoft’s handheld platform already.
Long term, I predict Microsoft is going to phase out the smartphone version of its mobile operating system. Devices that the smartphone version were designed to work on are on their way out. High-end, expensive smartphones with small displays and no touchscreens aren’t going to be able to compete well against cellular-wireless handhelds that are a lot easier to use. Especially as the smallest cellular-wireless Pocket PCs already aren’t much larger than smartphones. This isn’t going to occur before the end of 2005, but it will happen in the next couple of years.
Maybe that’s when Microsoft will come up yet another new name. (Just kidding!)
Shawn thinks that one of the mainstream handheld makers will release a model with a built-in miniature hard drive, giving it at least 4 GB of Storage capacity.
Sharp has already created a Zaurus with a microdrive, but it was released only in Japan. He predicts that one will hit the market from a bigger handheld maker that will be much more widely distributed.
He thinks someone must answer the iPod craze on the most logical platform available: a powerful, multipurpose handheld. If it doesn’t come, many will ditch their handheld in favor of an iPod because its greater capacity is essential to the increasingly large files we need to carry.
Cellular-wireless Handhelds I’ve been saying for a long time that eventually all handhelds will be able to connect to the Internet over cellular-wireless networks. After years of slow growth the number of these being released is exploding, a trend that will continue in the current year.
Currently, almost all the top handheld makers have a cellular-wireless model, like palmOne’s Treo 600 and 650, or HP’s iPAQ h6315. Before too much longer, companies will start offering multiple cellular-wireless devices in a variety of price ranges.
VGA Last year will be remembered as the year VGA went into wide use on handhelds. While the number of devices with VGA screens will increase in the coming year, this will continue to be a feature available only on the most expensive models.
I’ve read a few comments out on the Web from people who said that there’s no longer a point in any company making a handheld with less than a VGA screen. Clearly this is unrealistic. Monochrome handhelds continued to sell very well for years after the first color models were released. Non-VGA models will be the same way… and for the same reason. It’s going to be several years before we see a $200 handheld released with a VGA display, and I’d be surprised if one debuted for less than $400 this year. That’s just too much money for a lot of people to pay, so less-expensive, lower-resolution devices will be with us for some time to come.
Gaming Shawn hopes that one of the big handheld makers will put out a gaming-oriented handheld to compete with the Gameboy DS and the PlayStation Portable, but he’s not optimistic.
The Handheld Market
One of the biggest stories of 2004 was the explosive growth of RIM’s BlackBerry platform. This is going to continue, and I’m expecting RIM to be the biggest single seller of handhelds this year, beating out both palmOne and HP.
In addition, the Palm OS lost ground against Pocket PCs. palmOne might be able to slow this trend if it got serious about handhelds again and put out a model that made current high-end users want to upgrade. Clearly, this would need to run Cobalt at the very least, but I think it also needs a VGA display and Wi-Fi to compete against high-end Pocket PCs.
But, honestly, I don’t think this is going to happen. palmOne’s focus is almost completely on the Treo line now.
Another big story of last year was the withdrawal of Sony and Toshiba from the world handheld market. Shawn is going out on a limb and predicting that another big-name handheld maker will also leave the market, though he won’t say which one it might be.
Happy New Year!
Whatever happens in 2005, the Brighthand staff will be here to keep you up on the latest news from the handheld front.