After years of faithful service, it looks like an old and trusted companion is set to take a final bow. We are talking about an indefatigable sidekick in good times and in bad, a valuable business partner, a dependable diversion at countless tedious conferences, and one we could turn to for advice, trust with our secrets and count on whenever we were bored or in want of diversion. The sidekick I allude to is, of course, our trusty old personal digital assistant. We all knew the end was coming, and that the revolution started a decade ago by Palm would have to either evolve or die, but it is surprising to see how quickly the change came. If there was one indicator that the PDA (as we have known it for a decade) is dead, it was Sony's decision to quit the Clie market. With none of the usual fanfare to accompany their arrival, Sony last week admitted there would be no more Clies released on the international market. The last Clie to arrive in Hong Kong, the high-end PEG-TH55/H (launched in February), would be the last. The Clies were among the most distinctive and popular PDAs, especially in Hong Kong, where some people seem to regard Sony as the pinnacle of perfection. Both IDC and Gartner say Sony has more than 12 per cent of the global PDA market. More interesting, the Clie's market continued to grow last year, shipping well over a million units. That is a lot of gadgets to turn your back on, and must indicate the speed at which Sony expects the segment to die. In January, Gartner analysts said that overall PDA shipments fell by 5.3 per cent last year. Gartner credited Asia with much of the decline, as PDA shipments plunged 30 per cent across the region, and 25 per cent in Japan. For no obvious reason, shipments actually grew by 12 per cent in Europe, but when was the last time Asia looked to Europe for leadership? Sony's departure came a few weeks after PalmOne chief executive Todd Bradley told attendees at JP Morgan's annual Technology and Telecom conference in San Francisco how, ultimately, he intended to do the same. He was not writing epitaphs, but his meaning was clear. He told analysts that PalmOne would develop three types of smartphone, much as it has three kinds of PDA right now, designed for consumers, geeks or businessmen. Mr Bradley also promised to introduce Edge, CDMA2000 1X EVDO and UMTS handsets. He said Palm intended to convert most of its 30 million users to smartphones in the future. Before Palm bought Handspring a year ago, its executives were forever dismissing the smartphone. Even after launching the GSM-powered Tungsten W, they seemed uncertain what to do with it - so uncertain that they forgot to install voice support. The problem is that smartphones have always gone against everything Palm ever stood for. They are complex, extremely powerful, possess functions by the truckload, and the battery life usually lags behind the chance to add another feature. The old Palm Pilot was popular because it was simple. It had a few basic functions and performed them fairly well without draining the battery. Palm always looked back on that success as a template to be followed. But today's PalmOne lives in a different reality. This year's mid-range phones already support stereo MP3, playback videos, megapixel cameras and wireless networking. They also offer multimedia contact databases where they had once stored a dozen phone numbers. Today's phones are already far more than the Palm Pilot was, and they are innovating even faster. Better still, some even run the Palm OS. Sadly, the PDA will be lamented by few. It will still have its industrial uses, but as a cool tool for the geek elite, even as a student's sidekick or an executive's mobile secretary, the PDA's days are numbered. With the price of smartphones falling fast, there is no good reason to buy an expensive handheld computer if it cannot also let you make voice calls and give you a fast internet connection. There should still be some market at the low-end. Users who baulk at the idea of spending $4,000 plus on a feature-filled mobile phone may still be happy to pay $1,000 to $2,000 for a nice PDA. But even that market is ultimately doomed. As mobile phones fall in price, there will soon be no point even in the low-end PDA market.