Most Handhelds are Under-used (Updated)

Update: Michael Mace, Palm's Chief Competitive Officer, talked to the analyst at the Gartner Group and was told these figures are true only immediately after the purchase of the Palm. As time passes, a higher percentage of users install third-party applications.

I think this study is invalid and I apologize for publicizing it. I considered withdrawing this whole article but I think the comments from readers posted below are worthwhile enough to keep the article alive. -Ed

According to a study by the Gartner Group, almost all handheld owners use it for keeping track of their contacts, and about 60% for appointments. These are far and away the most frequently used functions for handhelds.

Only about 15% of users read or write their e-mail, and about 5% browse the Web with their device. Sadly, not even 1% use any of the huge number of handheld applications available.

This takes into account all handheld types, not just ones that run the Palm OS.

According to Forrester Research, at least one person in 6% of U.S. households use a Palm.

On the Web:

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I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 9:02:11 AM #
No wonder I can't make any money as a developer....are there any success stories out there for developers that post their products on palmgear or handango?

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 9:34:39 AM #
The reason you are not making money is because people want free software.

They might try a few thing here and there, but then they decide they will not use it as much or its too spensive!!

The other is that the average user does not know where to get software, for their information

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 9:54:07 AM #
The reason you are not making money is because people want free software.

I'm not so sure about that one - sure, maybe it's partly that people don't know how to install (or find) third-party software, but I doubt that everyone's just CHEAP. Speaking for myself I'll always use the free version if presented with two identical applications, but for particular features I will pay -- just not $30 per app. I've paid for iSilo, HanDbase, FlashPro, Galax, Zap!, QuickWord, HandyMap, and a few others that escape me right now (no longer installed). And I don't think I'm alone out there.

So if someone's having trouble (and the original poster sounded more like he was just carping for fun) then it's probably not as simple as "People won't buy software".

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 10:04:50 AM #
I guess the main reason is that there are too many free softwares out there.

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 11:05:13 AM #
Free software is certainly great, but I, for one, am willing to pay for software that I find useful (or fun). Off the top of my head, I've registered:

BackUp Buddy
JFile Pro
FlashPro (for Palm III & Palm V)
JackFlash (for Palm m505)
PocketQuicken 2.0 (well, for my wife's Palm V)

A few of these have fallen by the wayside with changes to PalmOS, but I've certainly done my part to support the Palm development community. ;)

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 11:15:13 AM #
Many medical students/ residents are walking around with close to $1K worth of software on their PDAs. Unfortunately, most of them are savvy enough to know which news groups/ yahoogroups/ Warez sites have cracked or registered versions for download. Even so, I've seen more legally obtained copies of megabuck apps than cracked versions. I would imagine that the way that the program is restricted would be an important factor. Programs that are painfully hobbled with long nag screens or are severely limited in capability get immediately deleted, as they are too frustrating to evaluate. Price can be another issue. When ActionNames runs for about $25 there is no way that I'm going to pop $15 down on a hack. When programmers charge big bucks to upgrade (as Synergy just did w/ "Launch'Em"), I dump the soft ware. Buggy programs that should be in beta version are usually not bought up in troves. Just my 2 cents.

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 12:25:45 PM #
I guess I would be one of your success stories. I have downloaded freeware and paid for quite a bot of shareware, too. I have only had my Palm for two months but I've alread filled up about 18 megs. Even better, I am not at all like the profile of those in the 1% category. I am an English major who doesn't have a clue about how to program, and the more technical discussions on Palm forums are completely lost on me. I just love my Palm. Wherever I am, I can whip it out and write down a few lines for a work of fiction I am working on. I can read great works at the push of a button. I can read the NYTimes Arts page on AvantGo. I can't imagine living without WordSmith or TealScript and a host of other apps and hacks.

How in the world did I wind up this way (i.e. how can you create other users like me)? I research products before I buy them, and I do a lot of my research on the Net. This naturally led me to sites like this one and also to PalmGear. It was so natural that I confess that I am astonished that more people haven't done or can't do that. Maybe a lot more handheld users have visited sites like PalmGear than we are aware of, but they didn't see a need for any of the apps/hacks or maybe they just didn't understand how to d/l and install them.

When I installed my first hack, I couldn't figure out how to make it work. I asked about my trouble in a forum and that's how I learned about X-Master. I wonder how many other people make mistakes like this, don't ask about it, and walk in away in disappointed, frustrated confusion.

Any guesses?

We need another study: WHY are most handheld users so ignorant of the wonderful world of apps and enhancements out there?

RE: Broke!
wilco @ 7/9/2001 12:45:33 PM #
Depends on how you define success, not all developer will make money, and since the installed base for PDA is smaller than desktops(but growing), the potential buyers are not as much as say, a Windows application. But the development cost for a program is much smaller too...
Powerpower had an article on PalmGear where it stated a developer who makes a living out of making Palm software:
Finally, a software success depends much on useability/good design, marketing skills, and luck. Maybe you had targeted a crowded market, too a small niche market, or just posted it on PalmGear once and forgot about it. Regular updates can draw new users to the product as it become more visible on PalGears' frontpage.

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 12:58:07 PM #
see the banner up top? Even ED needs a job! Palm sites are great for hobbies...but none of us are making any money I suspect! There might be the rare exception...but it's just that an exception. Developers and palm site masters...throw in your 2 cents and let us know if you can actually make a living at this stuff. I've tried it on the side and have made a few hundred dollars in 3 months w/ 3 products on handango and palmgear...granted my apps are not earth shattering and are for a small niche of the market

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 1:03:24 PM #
I would define success as the ability to develop palmos software as your only income source and to be able to live middle class doing so? Does this sound too optimistic and naive on my part?

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 1:56:43 PM #
Poor poor developers, some of actually do register, pay for and use excellent Palm software. I personally have done the following since January 1999:

14allCalc $8.00
ActNames $19.95
DayNotez $14.95
DietLog bundle $49.00 (included WeightLog and DietLog)
Froggy $10.00
Galax $19.95
HandMap $16.00
6 Maps $22.00
iSilo $12.50
IntelligentFind $9.95
Klondike $12.00
Orion Mail $10.95
PktQuicken $29.99
PktQuicken upg $14.95
ThinkDB2/dbSync $39.95
Trip $19.95
WordSmith $19.95
Ababall $9.95
AdressPro $19.95
AfterBurner $8.00
AquaTrac $8.00
AutoSync free w/BackupBuddy
BackupBuddy $19.95
Beam Box $5.00
ClearHack $5.00
ClipHack $7.00
Commander $14.95
Counter $5.00
Jot Bundle $39.95
LeftHack $10.00
MagicText $17.95
MiniCalc $29.95
PalmJongg $12.00
Pilot Info $10.00
PocketWatch+ $5.00
Pool $7.00
PopUp Calc $9.95
QuickBits $14.95
QuickWord $19.95
Recycle $12.00
ReDo $11.95
OmniRemote $20.00
ShiftHack $5.00
HackMaster $5.00
Sign-On w/Jot
Silence $5.00
TimeSync free w/BackupBuddy
TrapWeavr $5.00
UnDupe $4.95
WordComplete w/Jot
InstallBuddy $24.95
Mocha MPPP $12.00

Total $715.39

Lets not leave out Palm hardware:

Palm III $220.00 (Pawn shop)
Palm IIIc $449.00
Palm m505 $449.00
Palm modem $95.00
TRG 8MB card $249.00
Revolve Car adapter $50.00
Chamelon stylus $18.95
Fisher Space Pen $24.00
EB m505 slipper case $36.00
Cross peb stylus refill $6.00
HotSync cacle $19.95
Extra USB cradle $37.95

Total $1654.85

GRAND TOTAL $2370.24

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 2:03:41 PM #
I forgot 2 other apps-

!pZip $8.00
FlashPro 2.0 $4.95

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 3:51:52 PM #
You can make some money at it; maybe not enough to live on, but certainly enough to be a viable side job. You need to pick your market carefully, and have a best-of-breed product. You need to be original; a me-too address list or calculator or timer etc. won't cut it. The product must serve a specific function, and should be better than the thing it replaces. It can and has been done many times...

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 5:27:55 PM #
You guys are in serious bondage to this stuff, use it for what you need to! And get on with the rest of you life! I am a fellow palm user also

RE: Broke!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 8:30:38 PM #
Who ever posted that Powerpower had an article on PalmGear where it stated a developer who makes a living out of making Palm software:

Thanks it was a good read. What you didn't mention was the developer "who lives like a king" lives in Croatia where if I recall right has a cost of living around 1/10th of the USA.

Put it in plain terms. You only need to earn a 4 figure salary to get by nicely!

Moral of the story... Become a developer, shift to Croatia, live like a king. :)

RE: Broke!
dmccarty @ 7/10/2001 10:22:13 PM #
Well, a few people have posted software lists that they use as a user. I'm a Palm developer (I feel like I've been around for a while), so maybe some of what I'm about to write can be useful to somebody.

Back in late '99 I wrote several Palm programs, which you can view here:
The programs have been (I think) mildly successful. Certainly not enough to live on, as one posted put it, but not a bad income for a hobby, either. The three pieces of software that I sell--GadgetHack, Padlock Plus and Graspeedy--are all $4.95 and are sold on PalmGear and Handango. (Handango has been responsible for a negligable amount of sales. All sales come through PalmGear.) Both sites take 20% of the price of the program ($.99) for every license sold.

To date I've received $11,024.04. And I haven't updated the software in two years. So I guess you could say that it's been a nice residual income, although if I don't get my tail in gear it will soon phase itself out. My best month was January 2000 (which, due to the way PalmGear waits 30 days before cutting a check means that it was from Christmas 1999 sales), for $1,405.80. Last month I received a check for $186.12.

Some of the sales have come from multiple licenses. A large customer in Canada (I don't think I should say their name) paid $1,000 CDN for a number of licenses--we made a deal so they could finish out their year's budget. However, I believe most of the sales are from people interested in security--Padlock Plus is the best seller of the three--and don't mind paying $4.95 for a program. For a while, a freeware version of Padlock Plus, PadlockHack, was on PalmGears Top 50 page. A lot of early sales may have come through that link.

I think that if I devoted all my time and energy into creating Palm software and doing Palm consulting I could make a decent living. However, I already make a decent living as a programmer during the day and I'm not prepared to make that leap of faith.

You may have thought, "Wow, $11K is a lot of money. What'd he do with it?" Well, $11,000 _is_ a lot of money. Unfortunately, the IRS takes nearly half. (Self-employment taxes are really rough.) I also donate 20% of the pre-tax sales to charity. At the time of the greatest sales I was getting married, so all my available money went to that. And after that we made it a priority to get out of debt. So even though in a lump sum, it's a lot of money, over a month to month basis it hasn't made a large dent--I haven't bought myself a plasma display, kept up with the latest and greatest Palm device, bought all the coolest accessories, etc. I _have_ used it to pay for my "technology pays for technology" adage: my monthly cell phone bill and cable Internet access.

Anyway, it's been nice receiving a royalties check in the mail each month, even if the dwindling amount is a constant reminder that the public desparately needs an update that will work on OS 3.5.2 and OS 4.0 and that I feel that my skills are getting rusty and don't even know of my sources will compile with the latest palm dev kit. But I hope the above information proved interesting. Thanks for reading this far.

Daniel McCarty

That's what PDAs are for.

I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 9:27:31 AM #
It's not Under-used. I would say it is the Primary reason why they get a PDA in the first place.

Since it is the main reason for buying it and they spend 60% of the time doing that, I think it is fully utilitised.
Unlike some people who purchase PDA with all the added features and don't use them more than 20% of the time, like playing videos, listening to music.....etc

And it is a good reason why Pocket PC is not as popular as Palm, It's because not many people are using the multimedia features found mainly in Pocket PC.

For PIM work, a slim light-weight Vx or m500 series is a strong contender for any business executives.

Not many people will think of reading ebooks, listening to music, viewing pictures, reading Doc/Xls..etc on a PDA.

RE: That's what PDAs are for.
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 10:36:40 AM #
I agree. Just because most people aren't reading email and browsing with their handheld is no reason for alarm or shame. We simply don't need to do that with a PDA.

RE: That's what PDAs are for.
EdwardGreen @ 7/9/2001 10:36:52 AM #
Which makes me wonder if the various sites and companies that sell Palm software are actually reaching the major element of their possible market.

Compared to many "non-techie" PC users I meet who upgrade every two years because they filled their Hard Drives full of useless software off magazine coverdisks, the average "non-techie" palm user seems to be completely ignorant of the range of software available for their device.

Furthermore many people I meet are still uncomfortable buying something over the web without a box. They struggle to perceive the value of a $60 palm application, as it comes sans packaging. Added to this the huge amount of very poor Palm software now available (due in some part to the proliferation of easy to use programming environments) may mean people get put off digging out the Gems.

I used to work for a company that had invested heavily in Palm V's. They then decided they didn't do what they wanted and were going to scrap them and move onto something else. They hadn't even considered the possibility of 3rd party software solutions. d'oh.


Medical Profession's Use of PDA's
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 10:53:13 AM #
Most of the medical residents across the country use Palm OS based PDA's. Epocrates is used by almost all for drug information and dosing. Skyscape and Handheldmed are doing well by supplying several books that can be read of the SD/MMC. There are also other companies like ePhysician, etc. who bring wireless service such as billing and prescription right off their handheld. A setup can be done as well to get lab information from the hospital straight to your handheld which is a plus.

I hardly have any need to carry anything else in my pocket other than my m505 since I am carrying quite an abundant source of medical material just by having it with me.

Others have several versions of the Bible as well in their Palms including myself. Most of the software I have with the exception of Epocrates were purchased but there are quite a number of free applications out there dealing with the medical field.


RE: That's what PDAs are for.
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 10:54:55 AM #
It should be noted that a large number of the third-party apps are either enhancements or replacements for the built-in apps. The others are often redundant and/or may be interesting only for short time. I would suggest most people would find web-clipping(like AvantGo) to be only a minor convenience. After all, the news you might read tonight from will be in virtually every major newspaper tomorrow morning, usually with more detail. Enthusiasts(or, if you prefer, geeks) who frequent sites like this generally tend to believe they are, or at least should be, a fair representation of the market as a whole. Guess're not. You may want 85 databases and another 15 ebooks on your Palm, but the average person doesn't care. Deal with it.

Medical Profession's Use of PDA's
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 11:17:38 AM #
I agree with your comments. However, I think it is a bit of a mistake for Residents to be using ePocrates in its current stage of development. It's database is very incomplete, and the QID add-on is pretty sad compared to the Sanford Guide.

So long as those using it realize they don't have the "whole story" it shouldn't be a major problem.

RE: That's what PDAs are for.
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 12:34:24 PM #
Nonsense. I have been wondering how well the computers have been utilised? Most people buy a computer to get to the internet, emailing, some word processing and gaming, that's it!

If you want to use simple PIM, just go to local electronic store and check those cheap personal organizer which cost $30-$40 dollars!

RE: That's what PDAs are for.
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 3:34:10 PM #
"That's what PDAs are for" begs an interesting question. If you fail to use your PDA to play games, I can hardly say you are underutilizing your PDA.
There are plenty of ways to play games, and one can hardly claim you HAVE to buy a PDA for that capability.

However, a basic use of a PDA is to let you carry around reference information very useful to you,
that you might not easily lay your hands on. Many of the third party apps (especially the data bases)
address this issue, and failing to use them is underutilization for most people (let's exclude reference librarians and people with
eidetic memories, who probably do not need an extra 8MB on their person).

Almost everyone can greatly benefit from carrying some lists, DBs, refererence memos, restaurant reviews, grocery items, etc., not to mention info specific to almost every type of job and hobby.
The study points out (sadly) that most people are not able to go all the way through the process of:
- recognizing their need
- finding a way to meet it on the palm
- remembering to use that capability.

I think the big PDA companies (such as PALM) should be running ads that highlight awareness of
this type of PDA use. How often have you seen an ad in which a specific problem is solved by a specific PDA
add-on capability?

- toby robison

RE: That's what PDAs are for.
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 4:09:05 PM #
Underutilized is a stupid way to put it. You mean that if it is possible to use something a certain way, and it is not being used that way, it is underutilized?

ways my palm is underutilized
medical text, email, graphic doodle pad, paper weight, and skipping stone.

the palm is a PDA, it is an organizer. Most people use it this way.... hence it is "mostly" utilized.

of course that makes for a boring story.

RE: That's what PDAs are for.
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 6:46:09 PM #
If you have a $500 handheld that you are using to keep your phone list on, you wasted about $470. You can get a super-cheap PDA from Target that will do that. A Palm can do so much more that not using it to its full potential is a waste.

RE: That's what PDAs are for.
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/10/2001 5:02:11 AM #
Unfortuately the $30 organiser cannot sync with Outlook and other popular email programs.

Most companies use Lotus Notes, Groupwise (for that you have to use Intellisync)..etc

They want their appointments/contacts and emails to be "ported" to their PDA when they are on the move and re-sync with the PC/laptop when they are back in office.

If a $30 "PDA" can do that, I will agree it will seriously affect Palm's sales.


I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 9:48:10 AM #
I have to say I'm surprised that the number of prople using third-party apps is THAT small. Although, I am still surprised at the number of people who own a Palm (or PPC) who don't even know that you CAN install other apps.

This is so curious because I know that many of those are 'techies' . . . seems they would take the time to explore at least.

I know that I use Datebk4 and Progect ever single day . . . . .

"handheld applications" Use

I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 9:47:56 AM #
I would be curious to see a breakdown of the "handheld applications" usage. I would probably respond that I use mine for Contacts and Appointments most also. But I also have a dozen third party apps (including Action Names for my Contacts and Appointments and To Do List) It all depends on how the questions were worded. I use my palm for a Check Register and to store my Passwords (STRIP rocks). If they asked what I use My palm MOST for I would fall into the stats on the servey. I wonder if the 1% is the people who use a third party app the MOST.


RE: most users do not know of their handheld power
wilco @ 7/9/2001 12:30:07 PM #
Most users especially those who had their handheld bought for them (i.e. corporations), do not know of the hidden potential of the handheld, most probably thought its just an enhanced address book/scheduler. The lack of preinstalled software magnify this. Maybe an article on untapped potential of the PDA can do a lot to address this, not too many knows that the PDA (with the right software)can be turned into a universal remote controller (Omniremote...), picture book(Album to go...), scientific or financial calculator(PowerOne, FinCalc...), Astronomical aide(Planetarium...), Dictionary (Noah, Bdict...), and much much more. Of course, a lot of these software are irrelevant in daily life...

Good subject for a survey

I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 10:32:26 AM #
I paid for and use Pocket Quicken, Date Mate, Account Manager, Athlete's Diary, My Bible, several games, Todo Plus, Wordsmith, and others. I would probably use it for email if there was a wireless provider in Atlanta (other than for the Palm VII - or if the Palm VII replacement has a color screen as good as the Sony).

RE: Good subject for a survey
palmdiva @ 7/9/2001 12:04:14 PM #
I agree a survey would be good. "How many 3rd party appls do you have with a number range. I'm shocked at the small amount of people who use third party appls. I carry a VIIx and a IIIc everywhere I go. (Basic requirement for a handbag it must be big enough for two palms. I have not including the built in appls 42 third party aps on the IIIc; 53 appls and pqa's on the VIIx and I just did an overhaul and deleted the underused appls on both. Only a few appls overlapp on both and that's just hackmaster and keyboard drivers.
I don't want to add up how muc I've spent over the years. The pricey stuff would be Documents to go; gluco-pilot and DP Web. I need a frequent buyer discount for peanut press. If it's important it goes on the palm from family pictures to important documents

RE: Good subject for a survey
GregGaub @ 7/9/2001 1:11:57 PM #
The problem with such a survey is that it would be taken on this site. We've already established that even as far as techie/geeky people go, we're on the top rung. We are so far from the majority of Palm owners that it's laughable.

I think someone hinted at a good idea for Palm marketing to consider, and that's to push harder for people to even KNOW they can install other applications. Their agreement with PalmGear has helped make finding apps easier, but that's still only good for people who think to LOOK for them. They should do some kind of "More than an Address Book" campaign so that all the new users know that they can find specialized applications of all kinds through their web site, or other sites. A To-do or Memo with information on where to go to get started would be a good start.

PUGs are a good resource for new users as well. Palm should include an address book entry for InterPUG, too.

While their at it, they should make a deal with chris Antos and include a version of HandyShopper2 on there. Everyone has to go shopping for stuff, whether they admit to it or not. ':-)

RE: Good subject for a survey
palmdiva @ 7/9/2001 3:25:30 PM #
Greg, you're right. Just a few minutes ago a co-worker asked me to consult with an employee who's using her Vx as a really expensive datebook. She thought that adding other appls would "corrupt" her palm. I've scheduled some time with her tomorrow and am trying to explain to her that buying a palm and not using other appls is like buying a PC and never using any other software. I guess it's up to all of us to spread the word to users. Over at the forum for the high tech housewives at We are a fairly sophisticated group of users and it's been discussed before how Palm has missed targeting whole groups of potential users. What good are are branding Michael Jordan and claudia Schiffer Palms if you don't broaden your audience. The only people that really know about these "special editions" are people like us the hardcore users anyway.

No surprise!

mikecane @ 7/9/2001 10:52:28 AM #
"Underutilization" has been the coin of the realm with desktop PCs (of all OSes) too. You would think this would make "internet appliances" more attractive, but no.

This also accounts for any slippage in Palm sales. I was in a store where some overdressed, overfed, overpaid dolt came in to cop a feel of the m505. The salesman pointed out the new slot for additional storage. Mr. Dolt proudly whipped out his Vx and bragged that he could hardly fill one of its eight megs.

I had to leave. I was getting nauseous...

Really not surprising, if he fits the mold of the article
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 11:23:03 AM #
If all he is using the device for is contacts and meetings, I'm not surprised he hasn't filled it up.

I didn't outgrow a meg of memory until I started keeping ebooks and maps on my Palm.

Jon Acheson

RE: No surprise!
mikecane @ 7/9/2001 12:57:40 PM #
Then maybe Palm should produce The Moron Edition of their unit: Address Book only!

RE: No surprise!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/9/2001 2:17:22 PM #
That's why 2 meg Palms are still being produced.

RE: No surprise!
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/10/2001 11:40:57 AM #
I'm struck by the smugness of a lot of people's comments. Just because you can use your Palm to play games doesn't mean you HAVE to. Just because you can use your Palm for databases doesn't necessarily mean you see a need for it.

Just because the guy looking at the m505 barely scratches the capacity of his Vx doesn't make him less of a human being than you. Maybe he's browsed a lot of software or even sampled it, and he doesn't see sufficient need for it. That's why companies offer DEMOS--you should really look it up. And you shouldn't judge this guy just because he didn't marvel at the SD/MMC slot like you do.

The only thing that should nauseate you is your own over-inflated ego.

RE: No surprise!
mikecane @ 7/11/2001 11:06:31 AM #
Poor you! Feeling sympathy for those who can't get the most out of their money. You have a great future in bureaucracy. Smug and proud of it.

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