FRAMINGHAM (04/19/2000) - The battle for the multibillion-dollar personal digital assistant market kicks into high gear this week when Microsoft Corp., in partnership with three hardware manufacturers, launches its PocketPC.
Users and analysts predict that Palm Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., will continue to hold its own, even though Microsoft has produced a slick, easy-to-use device unburdened by problems that plagued earlier handhelds based on its Windows CE operating system.
Microsoft has touted the PocketPC's Secure Sockets Layer security capabilities as appealing to information technology users. But the effort may be futile.
Joe Chouinard, vice president of e-commerce at Visa International Inc. in Foster City, Calif., said the global credit-card issuer has no immediate plans for either Palm or PocketPC devices due to the small number of users compared with people equipped with smart mobile phones. Looking at projections of 1.1 billion mobile phone users by 2003 vs. 32.5 million personal digital assistant users, Chouinard said, "most of our efforts will be concentrated on mobile phones."
Jim Thannum, corporate director of technology management at FDX Corp. in Memphis, said "it's too premature" for him to make an assessment of the corporate utility of the PocketPC. But, he added, "we're watching it with a great deal of interest."
Wisconsin Public Service Corp. (WPS) recently standardized on the Palm III and Palm V rather than Windows CE devices. "Obviously, this is a new technology for us, and we wanted to start off simple," explained Steve Mitchell, a senior systems analyst at WPS. The Green Bay, Wis.-based company also chose Palm because of its 80% market share, which Mitchell said will attract more software developers.
Analysts who have tested PocketPC hardware -- available at Wednesday's launch from Casio Inc. in Dover, N.J., Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.
-- were impressed. Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn., called the new Windows CE operating system in the PocketPC "adequate" compared with earlier versions and had high praise for what he called its "sleek design." Dulaney said he has no doubt that the PocketPC will become a "corporate tool," but he quickly added, "It's no Palm killer."
Jack Gold, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, agreed that the PocketPC won't reverse Palm's dominance. But "it will stop the hemorrhaging" of Windows CE, he said.