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Sharp drops handhelds from U.S. retail market

The electronics maker will stop retailing its Linux handhelds in the United States, joining a retreat from the once-popular market.

Culture
Sharp Electronics is ceasing development of its Linux-based handheld devices for U.S. consumers--the latest maker to wash its hands of the once-popular retail market.

Sharp issued a statement on Wednesday confirming that the company is cutting back on its handheld plans in the United States--it will stop developing and selling handhelds to consumers but will continue to sell devices to corporate customers. Sharp will still sell its organizers in the United States and has no plans to stop sales of Zaurus handhelds in Japan.

"Sharp has made a business decision to cycle out of business development activities for the Zaurus SL6000 handheld mobile data device in the United States," the company stated. "While Sharp will not add additional products to the Zaurus line in the United States, Zaurus products will continue to be actively sold in Japan."

Sharp representatives were not available to offer more details on the move. Sharp joins a list of companies that entered the market after witnessing the success of Palm (now split into PalmSource and PalmOne), but gradually, as shipments declined, makers such as Sony and Toshiba have been scaling back.

"Sharp pulling out is not a big shock, but they never had much presence in this market," said Kevin Burden, an analyst with research firm IDC. "Still, it's not good news for the handheld business. Three years ago, vendors were clamoring to get into this market, but now there's consolidation or companies are just pulling out."

Part of Sharp's challenge, according to Burden, was that it was not only trying to promote a new device, but also it was trying to create a market for the Linux operating system within the handheld market. Sharp's Zaurus used the Linux OS. PalmSource's Palm OS and Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS have solid shares in the market.

"Sharp never wanted to take over the market--they just wanted a niche," Burden said. "But their niche never developed."

Sharp says it will "cycle out of business development activities for the Zaurus SL6000 handheld mobile data device in the United States." The company has no plans to stop sales of Zaurus handhelds in Japan.
(Photo credit: Sharp)

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