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Sony hints at return to PDA biz... minus Palm

Watching Symbian, PocketPC sales, apparently

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Sony may be contemplating a return to the European and US PDA markets, with Symbian and Windows Mobile lined up as potential operating systems, according to unnamed company executives.

Sony's original announcement of its decision to quit the PDA business came at the start of June. It will launch no new Palm OS-based Cliés in the US or Europe, and once it has cleared out its inventory, that's it.

The company blamed flat sales in both territories for the move, and certainly PDA sales are down worldwide. Only in Europe are they on the up, and even here Sony hasn't done so well, and in any case are selling in volumes that are dwarfed by the numbers of smart phones going out the door.

But it seems Sony may also have been a mite annoyed by PalmSource's Palm OS roadmap, if sources close to the company are to be believed. They're cited by Om Malik, who also quotes the above-mentioned Sony staffer and their interest in watching how the PocketPC and Symbian markets evolve.

That suggests that, if the move feels right, Sony may re-enter the PDA market with devices based on either of those operating systems. Such a move seems unlikely given the 'kill the Clié' move - you'd expect Sony to offer the new devices alongside the old ones, to test the market - unless it's so pissed off with PalmSource that it just doesn't care.

Where there may be demand for PDAs lies in the boundary between data devices and voice devices: PDAs with WAN functionality. It's here that Sony might well decide that having two mobile OSes makes no sense, and it wants to rationalise it down to one.

Sony's joint venture with Ericsson, Sony Ericsson, favours Symbian for smart phones, and Sony chiefs have gone on record before as to their preference for a single OS. Indeed, Sony's chairman and CEO, Nobuyuki Idei, last year said he wanted to buy PalmSource and, failing that, Symbian, though a Symbian purchase seems very unlikely given the other shareholders' keenness that the OS maker should retain its independence.

Did Sony may overtures to PalmSource, and were they rebuffed, chilling the two firms' relationship?

More likely, it's all about keeping options open, and for all Sony's preferences - Palm OS, Symbian, the BeOS even its brief flirtation with Apple in the PowerBook 100 days - it's quite happy to opt for the Microsoft strategy if it feels that's what the market wants.

The question is, will the market ever demand pure-play PDAs with sufficient fervour for Sony to re-launch Clié with whatever OS? ®

Related stories

Sony keen to buy PalmSource
Europe: we will buy your PDAs
Sony Ericsson debuts keyboard smart phone
Sony, PalmOne and the death of the PDA?
Sony exits global PDA biz

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