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Uptake of hand-helds slowed by limitations

FOR the majority of businesses hand-held devices have taken longer than expected to evolve from the realm of expensive luxury toys to that of indispensable work tools.

However, while it has taken time within some sectors to find a hard-business case for the use of the devices, industries such as hospitality, mining and real estate industries, have been rapid adopters of the technology.

With an increasingly mobile workforce the need for mobile devices seems obvious.

Research by the Meta Group has indicated that, by mid-2004, at least 75 per cent of the workforce will be mobile for 25 per cent of the time.

But it’s the limitations of the devices themselves, such as finite battery power, rather than the limitations of the software that have led to a slower-than-expected uptake of handheld technology by business.

Operating systems and protocols contend fiercely for market share, among them Palm and Windows Pocket PC. The new breed of part mobile phone part PDA devices further adds to the mix.

Understanding user requirements has also been a problem for developers of hand-held technology, with functionality either not being compatible with other devices and systems, or simply not being required by users.

A recent report by Jupiter Research found that consumers and businesses are more likely to use hand-held units that offer voice and personal information management (PIM) capabilities than devices that have a range of other integrated functions.

Jupiter vice-president and research director, Michael Gartenberg, said the report, PDAs: Optimizing Integration, found that the adoption of portable hand-held devices increased as their size and complexity of use decreased.

“Basic PDAs with excellent PIM functionality will continue to make up the majority of sales, while higher-end devices will remain in niche markets only,” he said.

“But as phones with integrated and functional PDA capability come into the market, they can spur growth opportunities for vendors while eschewing other less desirable features, such as game play or media integration.”

However, while this may be the case for individual and business consumers, certain industries have defied the trend by taking up hand-held technology that has been customised for their specific needs.

The hospitality industry, real estate and resources industries in Western Australia are examples where hand-held technology has been successfully implemented and creates a return on investment that, in turn, provides a hard-business case.

The key here is information collection and reporting. The data being collected is within a small predictable range that is time critical. It is sent to a centralised processing point and can be either actioned immediately or at a later time.

Generally, the backend system allows for data collation and reporting that provides more accurate business intelligence than would be available using a non hand-held system.

This is niche market territory for developers and some Perth software firms and device manufacturers have targeted them with varying degrees of success.

Restaurants that have wait staff take orders using hand-held devices is one example with which most consumers are familiar.

What may not be so well known is that many of these devices are developed and manufactured by Wangara-based PalmTEQ.

Also gaining a rapid foothold in the Perth market is the use of hand-held devices by property managers conducting rental inspections.

Subiaco-based GlobalIQ teamed up with Roy Weston to develop the PocketReporter, which is now selling across Australia, New Zealand and into South-East Asia.

The mining and resources industry – which often deploys workers to remote locations within the State, or out on to construction or mining sites – has long had a business case for hand-held devices.

p Next week: Alison Birrane talks to developers of hand-held technology.

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