No promises on PocketPC future: Toshiba

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Toshiba locally has refused to confirm or deny rumours that the notebook heavyweight is getting set to ditch PocketPCs in the next 12 months.

Toshiba locally has refused to confirm or deny rumours that the notebook heavyweight is getting set to ditch PocketPCs in the next 12 months.

Several European media reports have claimed that Toshiba has plans to ditch the sagging PocketPC market by the end of the year.

Mark Whittard, general manager at Toshiba Australia, would not say whether the hardware vendor would play PocketPCs beyond 2004. However, he hinted that any future PocketPCs in Toshiba's range would be quite different from today's versions.

"Beyond this, Toshiba believes the traditional volume PocketPC market -- electronic diaries or contact managers -- is rapidly moving to a converged device today, which will evolve again by the end of this year or early next year," Whittard added.

Toshiba was committed to the Pocket PC market in its current form until the end of the year, with a refresh of its popular e800 series due September or October, he said.

Whittard said the higher end of the PocketPC market was still showing demand for specialist applications, such as field data capture, GPS (Global Positioning System) offerings, stock-taking and order-taking.

"In this space, Toshiba is investigating on-going solutions that may include internal GPS and high-speed wireless technologies," he said.

Whittard said that Toshiba was investing its research dollars in developing small, handheld, converged devices that added 3G, audio-visual and TV capability to traditional PocketPC functionality.

"To stay profitable in this market it is about evolution of product to meet changing customer requirements, emerging technologies and demand for one converged device," Whittard said.

At least one UK news report suggested that production of Toshiba PDA devices had already ceased in parts of Europe. Customers had allegedly been unable to get service from sales representatives for Toshiba, who had told them that the associated division had closed.

Late last year, Whittard told an IT media conference in Queensland that he believed the PocketPC was dead, despite what had been heralded as a sensational start with sales growth rates tipped to stay as high as 40 percent for several years.

Toshiba has been one of the major vendors of PocketPCs in Australia, offering some 26 models to business, home and education verticals.

Whittard said then that PDAs in general had suffered from a lot of hype. Although the consumer space had seen demand, corporates had not found handheld devices so useful.

"A lot of it is performance-based. You can only do so much with a PDA if you really want to manipulate data," he said at the time.

Gartner figures last year anticipated a continuing global PDA market decline of about 5.1 percent in 2003, representing sales of 11.5 million units. For 2004, the expected growth was slightly stronger, at 5.9 percent.

IDC figures report that Toshiba took fifth place in the world PDA market in the first quarter of this year, behind Dell, Sony, HP and PalmOne. Second-place leader Sony has already flagged plans to withdraw from the PDA market.

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