Handheld sales are predicted to grow at 48 per cent per year over the next four years, according to research conducted by analysts IDC (International Data Corporation).

The analysts expect the value of the market, which Apple has consistently refused to enter, to reach $26 billion per year by 2004.

Worldwide sales of these devices - principally PDAs (personal digital assistants) and "smart" phones that support data applications - will grow from 12.9 million units in 2000 to 63.4 million units in 2004, the analysts claim.

Mobile progress Technological progress, particularly in mobile multimedia and wireless areas, will continue at a rapid pace, and 2001 will prove to be the year when mobile access devices hit their stride, IDC said.

The fastest-growing area of the market will be in smart wireless phones, according to IDC. From 480,000 units in 2000, shipments of smart phones will increase at compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 164 per cent to more than 23 million units per year by 2004.

PDAs currently dominate the smart-handheld devices market, representing 73 per cent of worldwide shipments in 2000. Most of these run the Mac-connectible Palm OS, though new products from other manufacturers, including Microsoft, have weakened Palm's stranglehold on the market.