Worldwide shipments of handheld devices for 2003 were about two million units shy of the shipment total posted in 2002 as users continue to favour mobile phones and smartphones over the traditional PDA.
IDC figures show that shipments grew 3.2% in the fourth quarter compared with last year's fourth quarter on the back of a strong consumer holiday shopping season. However, the 10.4 million units shipped in 2003 dropped 17.9% from the 12.6 million units shipped in 2002. Shipments also fell from 2001 to 2002.
For the study, IDC defined handhelds as pocket-size devices that access and manage data. The category has been losing ground to shipments of mobile phones with limited data management capabilities as well as smartphones that combine the full functionality of a PDA with a mobile.
IDC said handheld suppliers would have to design devices such as media players or digital cameras. Mobile phones with cameras have sold well worldwide, but the image quality produced by camera phones is generally low.
PalmOne has led the market for handheld devices for several quarters, and maintained that lead in for both the fourth quarter and the full year with about 38% market share in both periods.
Hewlett-Packard posted strong growth in the fourth quarter, doubling the number of shipments compared with last year. The wide range of iPaq PDAs that HP introduced over the year helped it boost shipments and remain in second place with 22% market share for 2003.
Sony lost ground in 2003 but posted strong growth in the fourth quarter based on excellent holiday sales to remain in third place for both the quarter and year with about 14% market share in both periods.
Dell completed the fourth quarter and its first full year in the handheld business in fourth place. Sales of Axim X3 handhelds helped Dell end the full year with 5.9% market share.
The top four positions in the handheld market remained static all year. Toshiba lost ground in the fourth quarter to Germany's Medion, which sells low-cost PDAs that gained ground with European buyers. Toshiba remained in fifth place for the full year with 3% market share, but Medion posted 2.8% market share in the fourth quarter.
Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service