PDA shipments this year are on pace to surpass the record set in 2001, according to a recent study by Gartner Inc.
But that growth could be the PDA's last hurrah as users start to turn toward smartphones.
Todd Kort, principal analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner and the study's author, predicted 15 million PDAs would ship by year's end, beating out 2001's record-setting 13.2 million.
In the third quarter of this year alone, PDA shipments reached 3.45 million, a nearly 21% jump over the same time period last year.
According to Kort, the growth has been propelled by the "rapid spread of wireless e-mail." In his study, Kort indicated that 63% of all PDAs shipped in the third quarter had integrated wireless LAN or cellular capability.
"There's been this sort of massive shift," he said. "PDAs before were mostly a consumer product. Now it's not the broad consumer product, it's becoming more vertical or enterprise oriented."
In Europe, part of the growth was fueled by wide use of GPS-enabled PDAs, which so far haven't caught on in the U.S., Kort said.
"I don't think PDAs are going to go away, but I'm expecting low, single-digit growth next year," Kort said. "After that, it'll slow down more and smartphones will maintain a very high growth rate."
Kort stressed that Gartner did not include smartphones in the study. Gartner defines a PDA as a data-centric handheld computer weighing less than one pound that is primarily designed for use with two hands.
So far this year, Research In Motion's BlackBerry has dominated the PDA market, with shipments skyrocketing 52.6% in the third quarter. RIM's impressive jump widened the company's lead as the No. 1 PDA vendor. Kort said RIM accounted for half of the growth over last year.
Hewlett-Packard's iPAQ placed second in the third quarter, dropping more than 20%, while PalmOne's PDA declined 36%, leaving it third in the PDA race.
The biggest gainer, Kort said, was T-Mobile, which captured fourth place with more than 300% growth in the quarter, mostly thanks to the Sidekick II and Pocket PC Phone Edition devices. Rounding out the list in fifth place was Nokia.
Kort said the most substantial growth was noticed in Western Europe, where the market increased 53.4% and accounted for 34.2% of total worldwide shipments, an increase over last year. In the United States, PDA shipments totaled 1.4 million units, a modest 2.2% increase.
"Although the U.S. market was relatively flat," Kort said, "it still accounted for 41% of worldwide PDA shipments in the third quarter."