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Handheld market accelerating

Larger, general-purpose machines fuel the growth.

Sales of handheld computers for the first half of the year nearly equaled the total sales figure for the whole of 1996, according to a study released today, an acceleration fueled by the growing popularity of larger, general-purpose machines.

Approximately 1.4 million handheld computers were shipped in the first half of 1997, compared to 1.6 million shipped in 1996, according to Mike McGuire, senior industry analyst in the mobile computing program at Dataquest.

The rise in sales encompassed a shift away from tiny pocket organizers and toward larger devices. In 1996, pocket organizers accounted for 51 percent of the total handheld market. In the first half of 1997, organizers, which measure roughly 3-by-6-by-.75 inches and weigh less than a pound, accounted for only 39 percent of sales.

Standard handheld devices, by contrast, grew from 49 percent of the market to roughly 61 percent of the market, or 842,000 units of the total 1.4 million sold in the first half.

Within that total, 3Com's Pilot accounted for 66 percent of sales while Windows CE-based computers represented 20 percent of sales.

Standard-sized handheld devices, such as Windows CE computers, typically measure 4-by-7-by-1 inches and weigh approximately a pound, according to McGuire. The machines can be used to run stripped-down versions of desktop productivity applications. Vendors generally adhere to hardware and software compatibility standards, whereas organizers can use proprietary technology.

Next year, a still larger class of handheld devices, the PC Companion, will likely make its debut, McGuire told NEWS.COM earlier. Companions, which will be about the size of a mini-notebook, could prove popular because the wider form factor makes it easier to use the devices as productivity tools.

"You can expect all of the guys in the HPC [handheld personal computer] space to go to the ultra-ultra portable," he said.