Behind the Week’s Headlines: Confessions of a handheld device wannabe

Here’s a confession for you. I’ve never owned a cell phone. I’m not quite as proud of that as I used to be, and in fact I’m beginning to feel a bit foolish without one because they are darn useful and real cheap. Anyway my wife owns one and I would use hers on occassion. But it’s just not right for

someone who works in high-tech not to own a cell phone and I shall soon wade into the sea of cellphone options and emerge a new connected man.

So if I’ve gotten along without a cell phone, God knows I have never used a PDA. But this puts me in the majority – unlike my lack of a cellphone – and it appears that this will be the case for some time. Unless Dell makes the PDA breakthrough it says it will. First, the bad news for PDA manufacturers:

Last spring research firm IDC in the U.S. reported shipments of PDAs fell

12.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2002 compared to the first quarter of

2001 and PDA sales dropped 25.4 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2001.

In August, Gartner Dataquest reported shipments of PDAs worldwide in the second quarter 2002 totaled 2.8 million – dropping 21 per cent from 3.6 million shipped in the first quarter.

Pointsec, a company with North American headquarters in Walnut Creek, CA, and European headquarters in Stockholm is a provider of security solutions for PDAs. It recently released a survey of PDA users, which indicates business in general is still not hip to the PDA. Only 22 per cent of PDA users said their business had a specific PDA usage policy and 41 per cent said they never changed their passwords, with a further 26 per cent only doing so occasionally. Other findings show that a quarter of those who store their own passwords and PIN numbers on their

PDA do not bother to use a password to restrict access to their own PDA. Of the people storing customer information on their PDA, 71 per cent don’t encrypt this information making it easy pickings for an unscrupulous competitor. Thirty six percent use their PDA to download corporate information with seven out of 10 leaving it unencrypted.

Just last month, Gartner analysts deemed Microsoft’s Pocket PC 2002 unsuitable for enterprise computing and urged companies that use Pocket

PC-based devices to turn to third-party products to protect their data.

But this is not deterring Dell. It’s expected that on Nov. 18, the company will release both an entry-level and high-end PDA. Dell’s director of worldwide mobile products Anthony Bonadero says it will be an “”aggressive”” push that will make Dell a major PDA player. He says PDA vendors have been making profit margins of 40 to70 per cent, which Dell considers excessive.

And so do we all.

Some reports say that Dell will bring out a 300 MHz unit at $199 (U.S.) and a 400 MHz model for $299.

What I keep hearing is that people who use a PDA would never give it up.

Hands up if you love your PDA. Better still e-mail me your own ode to the personal digital assistant.

James Buchok is a former editor of Computer Dealer News. jbuchok@mts.net

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