Caution flag waved for future of handhelds

There’s much ado about wireless computing these days. New devices and services continue to be introduced into this emerging market, and Toronto-based Evans Research Corp. recorded a “”highly successful”” Canadian handheld market in Q4-2002. Handheld shipments were seven per cent higher than in Q3-2002.

But the firm also says the market is giving clear signs of having peaked, saying shipments will remain at 420,000 units for the next two years. “”This is a niche market right now,”” says Michelle Warren, a mobile research analyst with ERC. “”But there will be a shift for this industry in 2003.””

Tim Kingsbury, chief technology officer for Toronto-based Great Gulf Group of Companies Inc., describes the wireless industry’s growth over the last 15 years as “”very slow.”” Kingsbury is in the know — the former CTO for Bell Canada recalls owning one of the first cellphones in Canada. While he acknowledges the advances the wireless industry has made over the years, he advises businesses against adopting a wireless strategy out of fear.

“”People are afraid they’ll lose the edge, or the bleeding edge as it’s now called, and there’s a huge cost to that,”” Kingsbury says. “”But you can leverage mature (mobile) technologies through the Palm IIIc — which is not a wireless device per se — and utilize technology that works well. That’s a far less risky proposition than jumping to a wireless device without much maturity to it.””

Kingsbury says his company equipped its subdivision supervisory staff about two years ago with Palm IIIcs to complement its RIM BlackBerrys. He’s also testing Palm’s Tungsten W handheld.

Mark Beaudet, vice-president of sales and marketing for Montreal-based Paladin Labs Inc., agrees with Kingsbury. The pharmaceutical company purchased 15 handhelds three years ago for its corporate sales staff in the field. “”There have been so many mistakes made in the pharmaceutical industry with technology implementations, be it a customer relationship management suite or implementing the use of laptops,”” he says. “”My view is it’s healthy to have a degree of skepticism.””

Warren says enterprises should pilot mobile applications now to understand the benefits and challenges they’ll face during implementation.

“”Businesses should expect radical changes in the wireless industry this year,”” she says. “”I’d advise keeping one’s eyes and ears open, specifically in the latter half of the year.””

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