Analyst: Don't expect your employer to buy you a PDA

The PDA market has taken a beating lately. Sales are not what anyone expected just a few years ago, when the devices were touted as the best link to the wireless Web (which has also been slow to materialize). One of the reasons the market never took off is that businesses, which were expected to invest in the devices in droves, have not put PDAs high on their purchasing lists, said Becky Diercks, a wireless analyst and director of custom research for In-Stat/MDR, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based research firm. She recently authored a report looking into the lack of business enthusiasm for PDAs. Here's a bit of what she found.

Why aren't businesses buying them?
It is not considered essential to the IT department. In some cases, PDAs make mobile workers very productive, but overall the devices have not become as pervasive as was first anticipated. Companies provide their worker with laptops, [then] cell phones, and then PDAs.

It is really [a result of] the overall clampdown on IT spending. Companies are focusing their spending on those things that are essential to the company, and PDAs are not an essential purchase. Until IT spending improves, which could be as early as 2004, we won't see a lot of corporate spending on these devices. Are individuals buying and being reimbursed for PDA purchases?
Companies are not reimbursing employees for PDAs. Businesses feel that if employees want to use PDAs, then that is fine, but for the most part companies are not reimbursing for them. Who is buying PDAs today?
It's a combination of business and consumer users, but more consumers. Will that change if IT departments begin buying more PDAs? Are many likely to lean toward Windows-based devices?
A lot of companies favor Microsoft. HP is one of the other PDA vendors doing very well in the business environment, and that is in part because it supports the Microsoft operating system. Are businesses more likely to buy a device that offers both voice and data capabilities?
There is a lot of interest in having a phone with which you can input data, but the integrated phone and PDA market has yet to take off. They have not found the right form factor. I think voice devices that incorporate data will be more successful than data devices that incorporate voice. There are so many more people that use voice services instead of data services -- the installed base is so much larger -- that I have a feeling that is where it will pick up first. Can the PDA manufacturers survive without the level of business purchasing they were counting on?
The PDA market is not healthy overall. Most companies have products for both business users and consumers. For example, Palm has products that are targeted at high-end business users and consumers. How important is wireless connectivity?
Right now it is not very important. A lot of the devices on the market today are not enabled for wireless connectivity. But, for a small minority of technologically forward adopters, it is becoming more important. However, we did find that there is a great interest in wireless in the future, particularly in wireless wide area network connectivity. How are business people using their PDAs?
Mostly for personal information management, contact information, calendar, those kinds of capabilities. A small segment of users are engaged in wireless e-mail. These things can enhance productivity. It is helpful to make sure you have your schedule, or phone numbers, but it is not a requirement. You can have all of the same information on your laptop or cell phone.

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