January 09, 2001, 3:09 PM — NEW RESEARCH SEES Microsoft clawing back marketshare from Palm in the handheld computer market, and analysts say the biggest battle could be about to begin in the corporate playing field.
Figures to be published next month by IDC show Microsoft's Pocket PC platform accounting for about 18 percent of PDAs shipped worldwide in 2000, up from 13 percent last year. While the gains appear small, they come in spite of the release of Handspring's popular Visor computer, which uses the Palm platform and snapped up almost a third of the U.S. retail market upon its release.
Much of the Pocket PC gains were likely made since April when Microsoft released its new Pocket PC Platform, analysts said. The new design, used in Hewlett-Packard's Jornada and Compaq's fast-selling iPaq device, fixes many of the criticisms leveled at early Windows CE-based devices, which were slammed for being too slow and feature-laden compared with Palm's simple, more elegant products.
In particular, analysts have pointed to the Pocket PC's improved battery life, bright color display, and support for considerably more local storage than Palm-based devices. The Microsoft platform also offers a range of familiar applications that synch easily with existing desktop programs, including Pocket versions of Word, Excel and Outlook.
The iPaq's $499 price tag makes it a steeper buy than Palms, which start as low as $149 for the m100, a fact that may help Palm continue to dominate the consumer and education markets. But the Pocket PC's improved design, along with synergies with Microsoft's PC and server software, could make it a compelling choice for some corporate buyers going forward, said Kevin Burden, a senior analyst with IDC.
"If you look at the enterprise and how they are adopting these devices ... the bigger the company, the more Pocket PCs we're beginning to see, the smaller the company the more Palms we see," Burden said.
MortgageRamp, a commercial real estate financing company in Horsham, Penn., wants to arm its site inspectors with handheld computers so they can deliver inspection results directly from the field using wireless connections. The company has begun to deploy hundreds of the devices, which should allow it to approve loans for customers more quickly.
"We started out looking at Palm pretty heavily, just because personally we all use them," said Ken Beyer, chief technology officer at MortgageRamp. "But there's a real strong argument there [to change]. We have a Microsoft platform here and they've made it real easy to put it on a Pocket PC."