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Wanted to check your emails but were stuck at the beach? Working in tech support and had to fix a problem at the office? In sales or distribution and wanted to update your data remotely? All this could have been done with the help of a wireless connection and a handheld device.

The rapid advance of wireless technology will help drive the uptake of handheld devices in 2002. IT managers, company execs and tech support have been using handhelds in their everyday lives and businesses are also now enjoying benefits from the new technologies across the sales, warehousing and distribution areas. Darren Greenwood finds out how.

Wanted to check your emails but were stuck at the beach? Working in tech support and had to fix a problem at the office? In sales or distribution and wanted to update your data remotely? All this could have been done with the help of a wireless connection and a handheld device. Even if you happen to run a radio station, you can choose the playlist while sitting in your car.

The New Zealand market for handheld devices, sometimes called personal digital assistants (PDAs), continues to heat up, particularly since Microsoft launched the Pocket PC in 2000, Toshiba finally launched its own device a few months ago and Compaq’s Bluetooth-capable 3800 iPaqs are imminent.

“Wireless is taking off in New Zealand and this can only help grow the handheld market,” says IDC research analyst Darian Bird. As the infrastructure is developed, businesses will see more benefit in the handheld concept, he says.

“Their mobility, functionality and flexibility can serve anyone from executives, stores people and sales staff to waiters and students. “As manufacturers gain efficiencies and component costs such as TFT screens come down, prices will fall and handhelds will be more attractive to a wider market,” Bird says.

IDC is yet to collate local handheld sales figures, but say shipments to Australia of “smart handhelds” will increase from 131,000 units in 2001 to 467,000 in 2005. Global shipments are set to rise from 16 million units in 2001 to 49 million in 2005, with the market growing from $US8 billion to $US20 billion over the same period, IDC says.

Commonplace are Palm handhelds, with software from companies such as Rocom Wireless and Christchurch-based iTouch. Businesses such as Walker Datavision and consultancy Ingenio are also gearing up to satisfy this growing market.

Walker Datavision chief executive Paul Hannigan says handhelds now generate $2.5 million in annual sales for his business.

“The real uptake is the courier industry where real-time access to information is paramount,” he says. “It is also happening in sales force and security patrols. With the growth in telecommunications, PDAs, the introduction of CDMA and costs coming down, such communications are now feasible.”

Ingenio director Leslie Preston cites a recent Forrester Report that predicts two-thirds of US firms will roll out mobile apps by 2003, saying Ingenio “firmly believes” New Zealand businesses will follow this trend. However, Richard Gee, the author of Practical Marketing in New Zealand, who is writing a new book on how sales staff can get better results from using handhelds and telecommunications, says New Zealand’s small and medium-sized firms are slow at taking up Palm and similar technologies.

While taxi drivers and couriers are adopting the technologies, computer users are some of the poorest users, he says.

But Gee, who also works in consultancy, is a convert, saying many self-employed consultants and businesspeople have jumped at Telecom’s CDMA service for checking emails and becoming more time-efficient.

“The average New Zealand sales rep spends just two hours a day face-to-face with customers. If you can increase that to three hours, think how much more you can boost sales and get more quotes,” he says.

Courier, warehousing and metering businesses are also claiming savings from wireless handheld implementations.

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