Top Stories in Handheld Computing: 2001

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Yes, 2001 was a year like no other. We entered the year with incredible hopes, buoyed by the longest continuous bull market on record. But suddenly in early spring someone hit the off switch and nothing anyone did was able to get things restarted. The bull had turned into a bear.

And then there was September 11th.

The handheld computer industry was not without its share of stories, most mimicking the tragic social and economic events of the day. Here are our ten top PDA stories from 2001.

 

1. PDA Market Meltdown

After four consecutive years of solid growth, many industry analysts predicted that 2001 would be the breakout year for PDAs. Instead, the handheld market followed the trend of the overall economy and tanked–big time. According to Gartner/Dataquest even the highly regarded iPAQ Pocket PC lost its momentum, with Compaq sales down 60% quarter over quarter. And it wasn’t just the big-ticket devices that gathered dust on store shelves, sales of Palm and Handspring’s low and mid-priced units slumped too.

 

2. Price Wars

As device sales slowed and inventory mounted, companies resorted to that age-old sales stimulant–lower prices. Little did they know how carried away it would ultimately become as consumers needed greater and greater incentives to part with their hard-earned cash. By summer Palm, Handspring and Sony were engaged in an all-out price war that threatened not only their profit margins but their utter existance.

 

3. Psion-ara

Psion, the company credited with inventing the handheld computer, discovered that it could no longer make a go of it by selling PDAs to consumers. And its operating system company, Symbian, didn’t fare much better, despite what many claim is actually a superior product. Some industry followers predict that Palm will one day duplicate Psion’s fate after it ultimately divorces its OS from its hardware.

 

4. Palm, Handspring Woes

Mix together slow sales, strong competition and a price war and suddenly you’ve got a recipe for losses. Palm and Handspring, both of which raised millions in public offerings in 2000, found themselves burning through its cash and unable to raise additional funds, thanks in part to the economic downturn which reduced its stock prices by more than 80%. The good news? Both companies instituted stronger management and inventory controls that should help when the market improves. And both companies managed to find angels near year’s end to fill their stockings with cash for the holidays.

 

5. Linux is a no-show

Despite what you may read about the soon-to-be-released Sharp Zaurus, the Linux wave many predicted at the beginning of the year simply did not materialize. Agenda Computing’s VR3 handheld was a dog, as was the Samsung Yopy (now seeking a second crack at it after a complete redesign). And Hewlett Packard–my only legitimate Linux hopeful for 2001–finally pulled the plug on the Jornada X25 last month.

 

6. Terrorism impacts the trade shows

The events of September 11–far and away the top story for 2001–took their toll on the handheld industry too. Fewer technophiles made the annual mecca to Las Vegas for the Comdex trade show than in many years. By most estimates, attendance was down more than 50%. Even more drastic, Palm saw fit to postpone its Palm Source developers conference until 2002.

 

7. iPAQ 2002, err Pocket PC 2002, debuts

Microsoft tweaked its handheld computer platform once more, creating the "evolutionary not revolutionary" Pocket PC 2002. And it was the success of last year’s Compaq iPAQ that did the most to shape it. Flash ROM, add-on expansion accessories, reflective color screens and ARM-based processors all became part of the Pocket PC standards du jour.

 

8. Secure Digital rears its head

In 2000, Casio took a gamble and added a built-in MultiMediaCard slot to its Cassiopeia EM-500. Few people noticed. This year more than half the new PDAs sported Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard slots. Who said that bigger is better?

 

9. What happened to wireless?

It was advertised as the year of wireless data. Well, it wasn’t. Ricochet, Yada Yada and Omnisky bit the bullet and now it’s left to the telecom providers to bring 3G and GPRS to the handheld world.

 

10. Brighthand begins its 3rd year

What began as a simple one-man website with a few dozen readers is now a one-man website (along with some top-notch discussion board moderators) with a few hundred thousand readers. But it wasn’t easy getting there. There were a few times during 2001 when I wondered whether Brighthand would become just another victim of the dot-com bust. Still, I hung in there, worked hard and stuck by my dream: to offer an independent, insightful perspective on handheld computing and provide a forum for Brighthand members to voice their opinions as well. It’s looking like 2002 will be much better.

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