Sharp and Psion's days as palmtop kings may be numbered, says report

Palmtop stalwarts Sharp and Psion will have difficulty maintaining their leading market positions with the arrival of Microsoft's Windows CE platform for handheld portable computers.

Palmtop stalwarts Sharp and Psion will have difficulty maintaining their leading market positions with the arrival of Microsoft's Windows CE platform for handheld portable computers, according to a report by the Stanford Research Institute.

The report entitled "Portable Intelligence Poised for Rapid Growth" estimates that global shipments of handheld computers will rise from 250,000 in 1995 to 900,000 in 1996, growing to around 5.6 million units by 2000.

"By the year 2006 worldwide shipments for palmtop computers may hit the 28 million mark and smart telephones may be as high as 13 million," says James McAteer, a consultant for the Redwood Shores, California-based Stanford Research Institute. "This is of course based on the arrival of enabling technologies such as worldwide wireless data access."

However, Sharp and Psion, currently estimated to hold a 60% stake of the global market for handheld computers, may find themselves squeezed into niche vertical markets as products based on Microsoft's Windows CE and Sun's JavaOS gain momentum next year, according to the report.

By 1998 the market may shrink to four key players with Microsoft taking a dominant role, while smart-phone vendors such as Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson may find the JavaOS a more attractive proposition. The Newton OS will continue to be a force in vertical applications and could emerge as a popular platform in Japan and elsewhere in Asia where handwriting recognition is important, according to the report.

"In the past the palm-top market suffered from the industry's own overly ambitious marketing campaigns that promised more than the products could deliver," says McAteer. "Without the ability to connect and communicate with other systems, portable intelligent devices are little more than expensive replacements for paper, and it's wireless connectivity that is the key selling feature."

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