Is It Back To Basics For The PDA?

What do you want in a PDA? The Register carries a story that seems to belie the conventional wisdom that folk want everything in one device. It quotes Jupiter Research as saying that vendors are getting it wrong by focusing on the high-end, convergent devices, when actually they should be looking at the low-end, just-give-me the basics, market. “The adoption of portable devices increases as their size and complexity of use decreases,” the Jupiter report says.

But on closer inspection the report’s not just saying that folk want a basic PDA. It’s saying that basic PDAs will remain the core of sales, but will gradually be taken over by phones that offer those same functions. This is the market’s “sweet spot for handhelds”, it says, where untis offer voice (read telephone), personal information management, or a combination of the two, ditching other integrated functions. By other integrated functions it means game play, playing music, that kind of stuff.

The figures seem to back this up: They show pretty low — 7% — penetration of the U.S. market. Jupiter forecasts a U.S. installed base of handheld PDAs will number just over 14 million at the end of 2003 and will only grow to 20 million by 2008.

I think on the whole they’re probably right. Extra bits and pieces just tend to make things go wrong, and if the machine goes wrong, and you have to send it off for repairs, you’re stumped. On the other hand, no mention is made of cameras, an area where I do think both PDAs and phones are going to see strong growth (see my column in FEER — subscription required). But I also believe there are other add-ons which are useful: Good voice recording — not just short memos, but a proper voice recorder that can store several hours of conversation — is useful for your modern thrusting exec (or journalist like moi).

Still, I think Jupiter have a point. Most folk I know just want something they can store their stuff on, and maybe check email in the office. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi etc: They’re all nice to have, but let’s face it, most people won’t use them. And given that ordinary PDAs are getting cheaper by the minute — fellow Jupiter analyst Avi Greenhart recently spotted the Palm basic Zire model for $43 at Best Buy — why bother going for the high-end stuff?