The shrinking PDA (market)This year has been a disappointing one for consumers with the exit from the US market of some major handheld producers. Sony led the pack with the announcement earlier this year they were pulling the Clie line of Palm-OS based handhelds from the world market and were heading back to Japan. Toshiba did not surprise anyone with the expected non-announcement they would not sell their latest Windows Mobile based Pocket PC in the US or UK markets. And yesterday Sharp announced they would stop selling their popular Zaurus line of Linux-based PDAs and go back to Japan too.The assumption that followers of the PDA world would logically make is that the consumer market is not large enough to support major efforts from big OEMs. Either the profit margins are too thin to allow these big consumer electronic companies to feel comfortable in the non-Japanese markets or they can’t sell a large enough volume to turn the corner to profitability. Or perhaps both. We know as consumers that competition is a good thing and leads to innovation and, well, choices. So is the PDA market really shrinking? Or is it impossible to generate sales numbers of a sufficient volume to justify selling new PDAs in the US? I don’t claim to know the OEM’s business better than they do but I can throw out some observations that I think are a definite factor.Your PDA can do that?PDAs at the base level are consumer electronics, much like the iPod or other MP3 players being introduced almost every day. You see audio players everywhere you turn- the internet, TV ads, magazine ads, on the street. Stay with me and you’ll see where I’m heading with this. I realize that PDAs are now sophisticated little computers that can do much more than play music. But how many people on the street know they are fantastic MP3 players? How many times have you been listening to music on your PDA while doing something else and had someone in public tell you “I didn’t know it could do that”? Why don’t they know that? Because there is no mainstream advertising. OEMs have been happy to depend on PDA enthusiasts to do most of the marketing for their products. I can’t remember a single advertising campaign on television aimed at showing prospective consumers what these devices can easily do. Apple got it with the iPod ad campaigns they’ve been running non-stop since the introduction of the iPod. It’s no wonder they are dominating the portable music player market segment. Everybody knows what an iPod does. Even Aunt Ruthie knows what an iPod does. But I keep hearing over and over “I didn’t know it could do that” in reference to something I am doing on my PDA. No advertising from PDA makers equals low sales. I’m no marketing expert but that’s pretty basic stuff.What if you had a portable music player that could surf the web, check your email, let you look up those sales figures you need, read ebooks, browse magazines, remind you of an upcoming appointment, give you that phone number you need, play video games, do crossword puzzles, look up reference material, etc. etc. The average PDA today can do ALL THAT and more but the only consumers who know that are dedicated enthusiasts who already own one. Why have OEMs failed to educate the neophyte with proper advertising? Beats me. But it doesn’t take a genius to understand why they don’t generate sales volume. Ignorance equals low sales.An intelligent television campaign would indoctrinate tens of thousands of consumers who have no intention of buying a PDA today. How can they buy one without knowing they need one? I know that TV ads are expensive but we’re talking a huge untapped market here. All it takes is turning on the light bulb that always follows the “I didn’t know it could do that” and watching the face of the enlightened. In just a few seconds they “get it”. That’s what a proper ad campaign can do for PDA sales. It baffles me why we don’t see ANY mainstream advertising for PDAs. It’s almost like OEMs sit around in management meetings whining “but selling them is SO hard”. Give me a break. The first OEM in the US that conducts a major TV ad campaign for PDAs will get market share. I am convinced of that.Wow, I could use a Tablet PCThe exact same arguments apply to the Tablet PC. We hear and read continually that Tablet PC sales are “disappointing” or “lower than expected”. We hear all the reasons that are always rolled out to explain the low sales. Too expensive. Anemic hardware. My handwriting is too bad for a Tablet. I don’t see the benefit of inking. But when you listen to Tablet PC owners who are continually approached by people who have never had the opportunity to see a Tablet PC in use you get the same affect as the PDA users. “Wow, I didn’t know it could do that” is the litany heard over and over in these situations as people who know nothing about Tablets see the benefit for themselves. I could beat my head against the wall every time I hear this.Advertise, companies. Go on TV and show what your Tablet PC can do. Educate people about the benefits of your product on the most effective advertising medium, television. Have you ever seen a TV commercial showing the advantage of using a Tablet PC in a given situation? I’ve never seen one yet in real world situations prospective consumers are continually blown away by the utility of the Tablet PC. What’s wrong with this picture? Show them your stuff and they will buy.And HP or Toshiba once you have a real ad campaign extolling the virtues of your Tablet PCs carry it further and run a few infomercials. I know, these are beneath real products, right? Infomercials are run thousands of times a day in countless TV markets because they work. They are effective at selling products that require a little more time to show the prospective buyer exactly how the product can benefit them. This format is perfect for selling Tablet PCs because I guarantee in a 30 minute infomercial you can sell thousands of the little jewels to people who otherwise would never have even considered buying one. It only takes showing them, people. Help the enthusiasts out, for once.