WLAN growth will drive PDA adoption

As the Middle East's sales teams demand access to data on the move, PDAs are becoming key business tools However, the implementation of WLANs needs to increase if PDA adoption is to soar.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  March 24, 2003

|~||~||~|PDAs have traditionally been seen as little more than electronic diaries or address books. However, vendors are seeking to convince companies that these devices have a role as business tools. Key to this transformation is ensuring that PDAs are secure and educating the market about how their use differs from laptops. The greatest boost to their adoption though, will come from more widespread deployment of wireless networks.

The increasing functionality of PDAs is exemplified by the recently launched HP iPAQ Pocket PC h5400 series, which includes integrated wireless local area network (WLAN) connectivity, bluetooth and a universal remote control function. The device is also secured by a biometric fingerprint authentication, which means that data can only be accessed after the user has swiped their finger over a scanner.

Despite these advances in security and functionality, the local market is still unsure about the role of PDAs. “[In this region,] people still see PDAs as personal information management (PIM) tools,” says Stuart Maughan, general manager, Palm Middle East. “When I do demonstrations, people are still amazed at some of the more basic functions, like internet exploring or e-mail,” he adds.

Despite these functions, PDAs are not being marketed as direct replacements for laptops. Instead, the vendors contend that their different usage model makes them complimentary to laptops, or more appropriate in some instances. “We are not saying that these are replacing PCs, but it is a way of being able to carry business information with you when traditionally you cannot… as you can fit a Pocket PC in your handbag or pocket and not have to carry your laptop,” says Annemarie Duffy, mobility marketing manager, Microsoft devices division, EMEA.

Alongside this greater mobility, PDAs also have longer battery lives than laptops — reaching up to eight hours in comparison to four. They are also quicker to boot up, which means that users are able to find the information they need more rapidly.
“When salesmen are on the road, and they need to quickly look up a price. Rather than having to power up the laptop… they can just turn on their Palm, do a quick search and get the price they are looking for,” says Maughan.

The key functionality for driving PDA sales, however, will be the ability to access information stored remotely on a server, whether this be within the campus or remotely via the internet. This will then allow users to access their e-mail, surf the web and remotely synchronise their PC and PDA calendars, for instance. “A lot of our customers drive their information exchange through the web and this feature [internet access] is driving adoption,” says Christoph Schell, general manager, personal systems group, HP Middle East.

Internet connectivity is increasingly becoming a standard for PDAs. According to In-Stat/MDR, 15% of PDAs offered this functionality in 2002, and this percentage is expected to hit 75% by 2007. However, this capability is useless unless users are able to connect their PDA to the internet via WLANs. As such, the adoption of PDAs in enterprises is closely linked to the deployment of wireless networks. “From an enterprise standpoint, WLANs will be a key point for growth in that segment,” says Cindy Wolf, analyst, In-Stat/MDR.

In the Middle East, WLANs are yet to be widely deployed inside enterprises, although an increasing number of companies are now deploying them. Public wireless hotspots are also being rolled out in the UAE and Bahrain, for instance, which will further boost the usefulness of PDAs. However, until WLANs reach a critical mass, it is likely that PDAs will continue to be used by only a minority of companies in the region.

“The implementation of wireless networks is still in its infancy [in the Middle East], as people are still not sure of the security aspects… It’s coming to this region, but I don’t think it’s here yet,” admits Maughan. ||**||

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