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Handspring merger heeds a new PDA order

Posted: 16 Jul 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:palm? palm pilot? handspring? pda/phone combination? zire?

Handspring Inc.'s acquisition by Palm Inc. seems more of a homecoming for the very same people who were at the helm in creating the first successful PDA at Palm during the mid-1990s and founded a new handheld outfit later in 1998. Jeff Hawkins, the technical genius behind the making of Palm Pilot, had kept going with the help of Donna Dubinsky and Ed Colligan who were jointly regarded as the operational and sales gurus.

After failing to convince parent company 3Com to spin-off Palm, the trio ventured to co-found Handspring that eventually decided to invest in a PDA/phone combo device. Though Treo communicator won the best reviews in the press, its market failed to materialize as quickly as it did for the Palm Pilot in the mid-1990s.

But the reunion of two PDA icons from Silicon Valley goes far beyond the hurting markets and onslaught of bigger rivals like Dell, Sony and Samsung. It in effect renews the debate that's almost as old as PDA itself: connected or not.

The interactivity gambit has been haunting the PDA industry since the launch of first successful handheld organizer in February 1996. Industry analysts have almost been unanimous in their belief that a handheld computer wouldn't succeed until it includes some kind of wireless access. But wireless-enabled palmtops are subject to consumer apathy and a number of design issues ranging from battery drainage to slow network speeds.

Palm, for instance, recently launched Zire, a $99 basic PDA that sold a million units in the first six months. Moreover, the long-anticipated convergence of computing and communications has another twist. Both cellphone and PDA are gravitating toward digital cameras, and hence consumer electronics, a development that has taken industry off the guard.

The real direction that PDA seems to be taking is towards a new world of usefulness to further empower as personal assistants beyond address book, and even conventional wireless and multimedia features. The fundamental perception of handheld computing with some form of interactivity could eventually branch into a plethora of new devices that serve a number of niche areas the same way BlackBerry with its wireless e-mail capability became a necessity for stock brokers and mobile executives.

Handheld devices could likewise specialize for the needs of professionals in medical, security, and inventory control segments.

Being at the low-end of the market has so far kept immune many of the Asian makers who are involved in low-margin PDA business that is considered safe. But there are many aspiring for communicative PDA products. These firms need to carefully evaluate the emerging dynamics of handheld business.

The gadgets uniquely combining voice and data functions seem to be the future of handheld computing. But their time still has to come. Many of the PDA players in Asia may not have deep pockets to wait till that time - just like Handspring.

- Majeed Ahmad

Electronic Engineering Times - Asia

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