Looking back five years from now, 2004 may not be remembered as a year of fantastic innovation in the mobile device realm, but it will be remembered as the year that smart phones became a smart choice for millions of handheld users.
According to data from Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner Inc., smart phones -- PDA-like cell phones with PIM functionality, e-mail, text messaging and often Web browsing -- will be purchased by 16 million people worldwide in 2004, 4 million more than traditional PDAs.
Todd Kort, principal analyst with Gartner Dataquest, said sales of PalmOne Inc.'s Treo 600 currently account for 50% of U.S. smart phone sales. However, the PDA isn't dead just yet, since the Treo is still outsold by Palm's own line of traditional PDAs.
Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director with New York-based JupiterResearch, said the Treo's success -- and the likely triumph of its successor, the Treo 650 -- shows that device buyers are longing to exchange their pocket full of gadgets for a single device that can provide wide-ranging functionality.
Also benefiting from this year's smart phone sensation has been Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry devices. This year the Canadian device maker secured deals with all four major U.S. cellular carriers, which helped BlackBerry sell a projected 2.2 million devices in 2004, according to Gartner.
Kort said they've been popular for years with corporate executives who need access to e-mail while away from the office, but the platform is gaining popularity with sales pros and other mobile workers, as well as consumers, because of its rapidly expanding capabilities.
"They're starting to attract a lot of third-party development, so there's a good collection of apps to add to the device," Kort said. "RIM has been the hottest story this year, and will likely to continue to have strong momentum into 2005."
Much of that momentum is expected to come from new form factors, such as the BlackBerry 7100 series of devices that offer the familiar BlackBerry functionality, but looks and feels more like phones than RIM's previous handsets.
A number of other devices made a splash in 2004.