Overview: The core value proposition for first-generation personal digital assistants has been the availability of popular Personal Information Management (PIM) clients in a sleek, affordable, and mobile form factor. However, the current downturn in IT spending, coupled with an increasingly competitive marketplace, demands that hardware vendors offer more robust devices with a clear return on investment (ROI) to potential enterprise customers. Against this backdrop, later this year vendors will finally begin to offer integrated wireless PIM and secure, push-delivered e-mail functionalities. In this InSight, Aberdeen reviews the latest wireless devices and highlights the impending arrival of packaged enterprise mobility solutions.
Growth Potential Remains Strong
In 2001, roughly 11.8 million PDAs were shipped, creating a market worth $2.9 billion.
Though growth for this sector has remained strong compared to that of other hardware
markets, it is clear that non-wireless devices, particularly those running Palm OS, have
experienced steady price erosion. That erosion has resulted from new licensees (such as
Sony) aggressively expanding offerings through 2001 to cover the entire pricing spectrum.
Thus, gross margins for traditional leaders Palm and Handspring were directly and
However, Aberdeen research indicates that the market for data-only PDAs will sustain a
compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 19.6% through 2005. Growth potential
remains strong thanks to the impending arrival of second-generation devices, which will
extend beyond basic PIM applications and universally offer built-in wireless
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Enhancing the Value Proposition
Although PIM is a valuable business application, it is not enough to drive enterprise
adoption. As a result, chief information and technology officers (CIOs, CTOs), as well as
line-of-business (LOB) managers have to date seen little benefit in the purchase and
deployment of non-wireless PDAs. The major demands among key decision-makers for mobile
devices also include wireless access to corporate e-mail, over-the-air (OTA)
synchronization, and real-time access to enterprise databases.
Research in Motion has capitalized on a portion of this market demand with its Blackberry
solution, which offers reliable and secure wireless e-mail functionality. As a result,
the Blackberry phenomenon highlights a key market dynamic: Whether the functionality
offered is corporate e-mail, OTA synchronization of PIM, access to enterprise data, or
some combination of each, enterprise buyers will accept these solutions if they are
robust and easily deployed. Other hardware vendors, green with envy, have come to
recognize the power of a Blackberry-type value proposition and are feverishly rushing to
supplant Research in Motion’s offering with more comprehensive solutions.
While Pocket PC and Symbian-based wireless devices will rapidly emerge in the second half
of 2002, several second-generation Palm OS-based devices are already available.
Within this class of handhelds, there already exists significant differentiation between
the leading suppliers, hinting at the growing complexity of the market. Vendors such as
Palm have opted to deliver wireless, data-only-enabled PDAs. Handspring, among others,
has chosen instead to pursue the holy grail of mobile devices: a single voice- and
data-enabled communicator. Still others – Motient, for example – believe in a world in
which add-on cards or sleds offer maximum flexibility.
Launched in January 2002 after several months of delay, the Palm i705 represents an
update to the company’s earlier wireless offering, the Palm VII series. Although it
suffers from a handful of key design flaws – namely, the lack of a built-in keyboard,
color display, and increased memory – the i705 is a solid improvement. It delivers push
delivery corporate mail along with rudimentary Web access and traditional Palm OS
applications. The i705 represents a good first step toward a viable enterprise solution,
but ultimately it falls short due to the limitations of the current Palm platform, both
software and hardware.
Handspring Treo 180
With the introduction of the Treo series, Handspring has once again changed the rules for
the handheld market and reinvented itself as a supplier of cutting-edge communicators.
These wireless voice- and data-enabled devices will be the fastest growing segment of the
handheld market through 2005, and Handspring knows it. However, the Treo 180 is a first
attempt – and it shows. Although the device delivers appreciable voice and data
functionalities, it is far from being a robust enterprise solution.
As a result, Handspring may fail to capture a significant portion of the enterprise
market unless it forges strong partnerships with systems integrators that can package
future Treo devices as part of a larger enterprise mobility solution.
Motient MobileModem for Palm V Series
The Palm V series accounts for the largest end-user segment of Palm OS devices. Thanks to
its compatibility with this large installed base, Motient’s MobileModem holds a unique
position as one of the few solutions that allows users to upgrade a legacy device with a
wireless push-delivery corporate e-mail solution. This value proposition, though limited
to a steadily shrinking installed base, is a clear and viable one. Enterprise buyers can
expect to see a steady proliferation of similar offerings targeted at adding value to
legacy and single-use devices alike. To achieve success in this market, vendors such as
Motient will have to continually isolate the shortcomings of existing devices in order to
deliver added value with modular solutions.
What’s Around the Corner…
While the Palm OS platform currently boasts a wider range of wireless solutions now
available, it remains the underdog in the battle for enterprise-targeted handheld
Working with a more robust computing platform, Microsoft OEMs have already begun to offer
packaged solutions targeted toward the ROI demands of enterprise buyers. For example,
Compaq’s Mobile Enterprise Framework delivers the hardware, software, and services needed
to deploy a line-of-business mobile solution at a defined cost and within a short time
This trend will accelerate, and hardware vendors who fail to partner with consultants and
systems integrators (C&SIs) will never penetrate the enterprise market, regardless of new
device offerings. Hardware engineering may experience more innovation within the Palm OS
camp, but design will ultimately matter far less than demonstrated ROI with less exciting
Pocket PC-based devices.
The promise of wireless connectivity brings new hope to hardware-makers seeking to
establish higher profit margins, solidify market share, and finally enter the enterprise
market through the front door.
In order to justify any new IT expenditure, however, a clear and short-term ROI is
critical. More specifically, a handheld solution must address a pain-point or solve a
given business problem to be viable. C&SIs rather than hardware vendors frequently solve
Additionally, devices that deliver all-in-one wireless functionalities remain a pipe
dream. By contrast, the success of the Blackberry story underscores the demand for great
end-to-end point solutions and should inspire hardware vendors to continue innovating
with that in mind.
To be successful in the enterprise market, it will be critical for hardware vendors to
evolve their go-to-market strategies specifically with C&SI partnerships in mind. More
than any others, these two constituencies will push mobile devices high enough up the
mobile value chain to hasten corporate adoption.
Isaac Ro is Research Associate in the Emerging Technologies Intelligence Group at Aberdeen Group, an IT market analysis and positioning services firm based in Boston. For more information go to www.Aberdeen.com.