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The Few, The Proud, The PDA Owners

It's lean days for makers of personal digital assistants (PDAs), as IDC has reported the fifteenth consecutive quarter of decline in shipments, with the quarterly market now under one million devices total. If there is an upside, it's that the numbers are probably bottoming out.

According to IDC's Worldwide Handheld QView, vendors shipped 728,894 handheld devices in the third quarter of 2007, a 1.5 percent increase over Q2 but a 39.3 percent decrease from the same quarter a year ago.

The top five PDA vendors – Palm, HP, Mio, Fujitsu-Siemens and Sharp – are hanging in but others, like Toshiba, Sony and Dell, have gotten out of the market. Still, Ramon Llamas, research analyst with IDC's Mobile Device Technology and Trends unit and author of the recent report, said all is not lost.

"We're still seeing a lot of traction with some people," he told InternetNews.com. "The emerging market is a big one, because [a PDA] is cheaper than a mobile phone. Someone in an emerging market can't afford the mobile phone bill. And there are still a number of enterprise users who prefer it to other devices. It's small, easy to use and unique and it's easier than carrying around a laptop computer."

PDAs are losing ground to smart phones, which have many of the same features of a PDA but include a mobile phone as well. However, there is a pretty big price gulf between the two, with a PDA starting as low as $99 and averaging $300 to $400, while smart phones are in the $600 to $700 range.

However, Llama said smart phones "are the big culprit" in the decline of PDAs. "It's the era of convergence where everything comes together on one device, and right now the smart phone is the de facto device," he said. But he added there are other devices eating into the PDA market, including laptops and ultra mobile computers.

What keeps the PDA market going quarter after quarter is the loyalist market of people who don't mind carrying two devices, a PDA and a cell phone. "More power to them," said Llamas. "Most people don't want multiple devices, but we're still finding a lot of folks who say 'I really like having them separate and let's just live with it that way.'"

While the market may continue to slow, Llamas expects there to be a leveling off of sales, with emerging markets picking up the slack for the disappearing U.S. market.