Application developers dig deep into Pocket PC

With large growth expectations surrounding Microsoft Corp.’s new handheld operating system, Canadian software developers say they are happy to be in the software giant’s pocket.

Pocket PC 2002 is Microsoft’s attempt to take handheld devices beyond the limited role of electronic organizer and into the realm of enterprise-friendly portable appliance.

“It’s more of a business tool than simply keeping information,” said Ken Smiley, a Giga Information Group senior analyst covering the handheld market.

Smiley pointed to Pocket PC 2002’s ability to work with existing enterprise programs like Microsoft Word and SQL Server and its wireless capabilities. Pocket PC 2002 is designed to work with both GSM and CDMA networks.

“It’s (the) flexibility,” Smiley said, explaining the attraction. In a recent survey by the Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm, 65 per cent of respondents said they are planning to choose Pocket PC for their next implementation and only 20 per cent were planning to opt for Palm.

Mark Bonkowski, associate product manager for Victoria, B.C.-based ACD Systems International Inc., also expects Microsoft to grab more market share with Pocket PC 2002.

“We know that marketplace is growing at a rapid rate,” Bonkowski said of Pocket PC. “Palm’s going to be there for a while as well. But industry is indicating that Microsoft will enjoy a faster growth rate.”

ACD has re-tooled the ACDSee image editing software to make it compatible with Pocket PC 2002 as well as Windows CE 3.0 or later.

Accelio Corp. of Ottawa is another developer following Microsoft’s migration to Pocket PC 2002. The company’s Capture software for handhelds, designed to help field workers capture and relay data, is compatible with both Palm and Microsoft OSes. But John Hogerland, vice-president and general manager of the Capture product, said Accelio is primarily dedicated to Microsoft platforms.

“Our major investment is Windows CE and the Pocket PC space,” he said.

At least one company in the United States, New York-based Vindigo, was convinced enough of Pocket PC 2000’s future to abandon its previous Palm-only stance and make its personal navigation applications compatible with new Microsoft OS.

“The Pocket PC platform is making such inroads in the market that we wanted to jump on the bandwagon,” said Vindigo sales and marketing director Harley Unger.

But Warren Chaisastien, an analyst with IDC Canada, said Pocket PC 2000’s prospects could suffer at the hands of the economy.

“We expect to se the Pocket PC operating system getting more and more market share,” he said. “However, the path may not be that fast because the market has slown down a bit.”

IDC did not have recent handheld market data for Canada. But Chaisastien said U.S. figures that show Palm’s stateside market share drop from 81 per cent in the first quarter of 2001 to 70 per cent in the second quarter reflect the Canadian market. He expects Palm to occupy 65 per cent of the U.S. market by the end of the year, and Microsoft, which had 25 per cent of the market in the second quarter, to pick up some of that lost market share.

Vancouver’s Veratium Software Ltd. is playing it safe. The company’s Motivus Enterprise Server software, designed to allow handheld users to access their desktop or network files, folders and e-mails, is available for Pocket PC 2002, Palm OS, RIM OS and Smart Phones.

“From my viewpoint, it’s important for us to support everything out there,” said Veratium president and CEO Phil Calvin.

However, Calvin said only Motivus for Pocket PC 2002 allows for handheld editing of Word documents.

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