Handspring grabs quarter of US PDA market

Palm Platform dominates retail sales with 92 per cent marketshare

Updated PalmOS licensee Handspring, which successfully IPO'd earlier this week, grabbed the number two slot in the US PDA retail marketshare chart, according to figures for May just released by market researcher NPD Intelect.

April marked Handspring's debut in the retail channel after setting up its - initially rather shaky, it has to be said - Web-based direct sales mechanism. Early numbers showed Handspring outselling Palm, but over time the latter's stronger brand (and bigger sales presence) pushed it back into the lead.

For April as a whole, NPD Intelect's stats give Palm a commanding 71.1 per cent share of the retail market, in terms of units sold, with Handspring in second place with a very healthy (for its debut month) 18 per cent share.

That left PalmOS dominating the retail sector with a 89.1 per cent market share.

Windows CE-based device vendors filled out the top five: Casio took 5.4 per cent of the market, Hewlett-Packard 2.6 per cent and Compaq a mere 0.9 per cent. The ubiquitous 'others' split the remaing 1.4 per cent among themselves.

The numbers are certainly a validation of Handspring's strategy targeting more mainstream consumers. Carving out such a high share is impressive, particurly given the very strong brand names of its competitors. That said, shipping product that's around $200 cheaper than its Windows CE rivals and most (but not all) of Palm's offerings helps here.

Of course, Handspring can't take it easy. Late April saw the debut of Microsoft's PocketPC initiative (aka Windows CE 3.0), too late to show up in April's figures.

And May's numbers show the launch made pretty little difference. Last month, Handspring's retail marketshare rose to 25 per cent, while Palm's fell to 67 per cent. That leaves Windows CE with an even smaller share of retail unit shipments - just eight per cent minus Psion's undoubtedly tiny share. Casio took just over five per cent of it; as with April, the only other significant players were HP and Compaq.

PocketPC devices remain expensive in comparison to Handspring's Visor, and don't really offer the kind of significant improvements over previous versions that might tempt retail consumers to opt for the pricier models.

NPD Intelect's numbers ignore corporate sales, which won't do much to change Palm's overall lead, would certainly improve both Compaq and HP's shares if taken into account. ®

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