Gartner: Users will adopt wide range of handhelds

By , InfoWorld |  Hardware

A VARIETY OF handheld devices and operating systems will continue to crowd the market over the next several years, with users carrying different wireless Internet devices for different functions, according to a Gartner Group presentation here on Thursday.

Gartner projects sales of 700 million cell phones, 30 million PDAs (personal digital assistants), and 10 million pagers per year by 2004, with individuals commonly carrying three computing and communications devices beginning as soon as next year.

The proliferation of portable devices, including PDAs, "smart" Web-enabled phones, and WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) handsets, will force software developers to transform the way they write software and will create headaches for enterprise IS managers, said Ken Dulaney, vice president for mobile research at Gartner Research.

Corporations will have to add special "PDA firewalls" to secure their data and act soon to put in place standard synchronization software for all employee devices, Dulaney said.

At the center of this explosion of new technology is the desire to stay connected, he said.

"The No. 1 application that people are going to do with these devices is nothing but sending and receiving messages," Dulaney said. Instant messaging is quickly joining e-mail as a popular use for handhelds, he added.

Another growing use to look for in the next few years will be digital photography using tiny integrated cameras, for uses such as manufacturers checking shelf displays at retail stores and government workers documenting maintenance of housing projects, Dulaney said.

Bluetooth personal-area wireless technology will be the glue that holds the pieces of all these devices together, allowing individuals to use one Internet link for three or more portable computing devices. Meanwhile, notebook computers will not go away but will remain crucial for reliably using full PC applications until at least 2006, he added.

"Everybody needs a notebook or desktop that's fully compatible" with databases, spreadsheets, and other applications that may have a number of customized features within a company at any given time, Dulaney said.

With employees essentially carrying a wireless LAN with them wherever they go, management and security problems will only increase, he added. It can help for companies to take on purchasing of portable devices for their employees -- and they may not end up being as inexpensive as they seem. A PDA that carries a price tag of a few hundred dollars may have a total cost of ownership of $2,500 a year, he warned.

Meanwhile, software is only now being developed to secure mobile devices as effectively as wired computers are protected.

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