Experts to discuss PDA potential
By JAMES RILEY
MARKET reaction to the new class of hand-held machine known as personal digital assistants (PDAs) has been lukewarm at best.
But that has not dampened the enthusiasm of the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC).
The council hopes Hong Kong's developers, manufacturers and entrepreneurs will look beyond the limitations of first-generation PDA products towards the broader potential of PDAs as an all-round personal communicator.
The application of Hong Kong business know-how, the council said, could make the PDA a cornerstone product for the manufacturing sector, just as the personal computer became an important and lucrative product in Hong Kong 15 years ago.
Such is its faith in the PDA as a mass market product of the future, the HKPC has scheduled a two-day seminar next week to ''sell'' the concept to the business community.
HKPC electronics services division manager Wong Hon-yee said he could not forecast future sales trends for the PDA in Hong Kong.
At the same time, he said he could not predict what a successful PDA would ''look like'' in the future.
But, like much of the computer and telecommunications industries, Mr Wong subscribed to the seemingly universally-held theory that, eventually, the PDA had the potential to become a massive product segment, an industry all of its own.
Somewhere beyond the Sharp electronic organisers and further on than the disappointing Apple Newton, lies a product that integrates communications services like fax, electronic mail and even voice mail with various processing and storage functions that will set consumer markets alight.
''The PDA is a very new product class for Hong Kong people and we want to draw it to the attention of our industrialists,'' Mr Wong said.
''We don't have a specific design ideal in mind at the moment, but rather - as is the role of the Productivity Council - we are playing the technology watcher,'' he said.
''Once they (local developers and manufacturers) have learned some more about the technology and about the market, they will have a better idea of how to approach it. They can then decide for themselves whether they want to design a product, or take a design from overseas (as an original equipment manufacturer), or if they just want to bring PDAs to Hong Kong as a trading company.'' The PDA symposium - to be held at Hotel Nikko in Tsim Sha Tsui East next Tuesday and Wednesday - will address specific issues related to hand-writing recognition, particularly on developments in Chinese character recognition.
Character recognition design teams have been invited from Taiwan and China to give presentations, as has the Hong Kong pen systems specialists, Notapenna.
Day one of the symposium will focus generally on the business-related issues, looking at target markets, market demographics, demand and expected manufacturing costs.
The symposium's second day will discuss, specifically, the various technical components of PDAs, from the operating software and pen-input systems, to central processor unit requirements, and communications systems.
Symposium participants will include a representative from the Office of the Telecommunications Authority (OFTA) who will talk about technical and market-related issues.
Various multinationals that already manufacture PDAs, including AST, Apple, AT & T, Motorola and the Eden Group, will be among other high profile participants.
Some companies are expected to demonstrate prototype PDA systems that are not yet on the market.
''Looking at the potential of the market, the PDA is something we definitely can't ignore,'' Mr Wong said.