What’s a PDA?

by Reads (10,277)

Recently we’ve been seeing headlines such as “Handheld market free fall continues“, followed the next week by a headline “Smartphone sales continue to grow“.  Then research firm Gartner releases data saying that the PDA market is growing, but IDC says the PDA market is shrinking.  So what the heck is going on?  The only sure thing we can say is nobody can agree what a PDA is and is not.  As device convergence continues, this will only get worse.

Gartner says the Treo 650 is a PDA, IDC says it is a SmartPhone and not a PDA

In my opinion, calling a SmartPhone strictly a “SmartPhone” and not grouping it as a PDA is an incorrect way to look at PDA sales and the PDA market as a whole.  Think back to the dark ages when we had PCs with no modems, they simply stood alone unconnected from the world.  Then modems came along and we had a PC with a modem in it.  It didn’t become a “SmartPC” or a “Connected PC” it was a PC with an extra feature in it.

Stay with me now….

Gartner, a market research and sales trend analysis firm, says that devices such as voice-enabled Blackberries and Pocket PC devices are really more data devices than phones, and therefore are PDAs.  So when Gartner reports sales numbers and forecast for PDA sales it includes SmartPhones and Blackberries in those numbers.  Since Blackberries and Treo model phones have been selling very well of late, the PDA sales chart was an upward slope in 2004 according to Gartner numbers.

But then we have the other big market research firm IDC who says that any cellular voice capability in a device means it is a SmartPhone and not a PDA, and that these are two distinct market segments.  So IDC says PDA sales are shrinking and SmartPhone sales are growing nicely.

My question is, what would IDC define a device as that has Wi-Fi capability and a built in VoIP software based phone?  Now that’s a head scratcher — it’s not cellular but it could certainly be called a phone, but is it a SmartPhone?  And that is just a theoretical example of a device that could come about soon and that these research companies would then begin chasing their tails on trying to determine what it really is — a PDA, SmartPhone, or something else entirely.

The point I’m making here is that we all know devices are converging or creating nuances of an existing device, trust me, you’re going to see more of it and it’s going to be interesting.  And nobody is going to know what to call these devices exactly, because they’re all going to share some feature similarities.  But at the end of the day my argument is that when looking at the market and sales trends they should all be called PDAs as a catch all definition for what they really are — data-centric handheld devices used to store user data and run programs to manipulate and interpret that data.  Some PDAs will let you talk into them and hear people talking to you. Others will show you maps of where you are and have GPS integrated, others will do a good job of storing your calendar and nothing more.  I agree with Gartner in terms of how to analyze the sales of these devices, they’re all PDAs, just with different features.

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