The spread of cell phones, pagers, and personal digital assistants (PDAs) shows no signs of slowing. In fact, Gartner Dataquest forecasts that worldwide handheld computer shipments will rise nearly 2œ times between 2001 and 2004 (“Mobile and Handheld Computer Forecast,” Nov. 20 2000, Gartner Resource ID: 316926).

As these devices permeate the workplace, IT organizations are moving rapidly to provide handheld support. To see if this movement is affecting TechRepublic members, we recently conducted a survey of handheld support practices, and 750 members responded, providing a clear message that handheld support is growing.

Majority supports handhelds
A January 2001 poll of TechRepublic members found that 52 percent of respondents do not support PDAs (see Figure A).

Figure A

What a difference three months makes. In April 2001, 77 percent of those responding to our handheld support survey said their IT organization supports handheld devices (see Q.2 in Figure B).
Figure B

PDAs are the most commonly supported device
Q.3 in Figure B shows the breakdown of devices that respondents said they support. With 71 percent, PDAs were by far the most supported devices. Cell phones and pagers were supported almost equally, with 45 and 41 percent, respectively. Only 18 percent of respondents reported supporting other types of handheld devices.

PDAs are also supported in the greatest numbers. Q.4 in Figure B shows that 34 percent of respondents support one to 20 PDAs, compared with 20 and 19 percent for the same number of pagers and cell phones, respectively. The difference, however, among the support given to PDAs, cell phones, and pagers is minimal as the number of devices increases.

PDAs receive a higher level of support
Not only are PDAs the most commonly supported handheld, but they also receive a higher level of support than other handheld devices. Q.5 in Figure B shows that 34 percent of respondents reported providing “Full” support for PDAs. Full support requires supporting all device hardware, software, and interaction with existing computer or network systems. Cell phones and pagers were again close, with 13 and 11 percent reporting “Full” support, respectively. Other handheld devices also received 11 percent of the responses.

PDAs were also more likely to receive “Limited” support, with 39 percent of the responses. Limited support includes only supporting device interaction with existing computer or network systems. Once again, cell phones and pagers were close, with 32 and 30 percent, respectively (see Q.5 in Figure B).

Get ready to start supporting handheld devices
What does all this mean for you? If you don’t already, you will most likely be supporting handheld devices very soon. Until recently, the usability of Internet cell phones, e-mail pagers, or digital address books was limited by technology. However, handheld computing power and wireless data transmission rates are rapidly rising and will soon approach the level required for normal business use. Handheld devices will follow the path of most technological advances: novelty, practical device, and, finally, competitive requirement.

Boon or bane?

What’s your opinion on supporting handheld devices? Do you enjoy troubleshooting them as much as a PC? Would you work for a help desk that supported nothing but handhelds? Post a comment or send us a note.