Along with the world première of Viamo, a portable ultrasound unit, at ECR, Toshiba (Tokyo) presented an estimate of the worldwide market for such devices, placing current sales at €500 million ($632 million).

An informal survey by BB&T of executives from the leading medical imaging companies during ECR 2009 confirmed that number, as well as Toshiba's estimate that this market has grown aggressively at a rate of 20% for each of the past few years.

The market for all ultrasound equipment is estimated to be $4.7 billion annually and headed for $6.2 over the next five years. While portable ultrasound accounts for 10% of these sales, it is expected to undermine sales of cart-based and fixed-installation units as it continues to expand.

GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin) started the trend to portable ultrasound in 2005 with the introduction of the Vivid i, a laptop model ultrasound for the cardiovascular cath lab as well as urgent care, emergency rooms, critical care, and operating rooms.

Successfully tapping an unmet need in medical practice that was originally proven by the original category creator, SonoSite (Bothell, Washington), sales of the Vivid i tore away market share from competitors, catapulting GE by 2006 to the lead position for ultrasound worldwide.

GE enjoyed the first-to-market advantages until 2007, when Siemens (Erlangen, Germany) introduced the Acuson P-10, a pocket-sized model that pushed the portability challenge just as Blackberries took away many everyday tasks from the laptop computer. With a flip-up monitor and thumb controls, the P-10 is widely referred to as a next-generation stethoscope bringing basic ultrasound further out of the hospital and successfully creating a personal data assistant feel for cardiologists, as well as ob/gyns.

Philips Healthcare (Andover, Massachusetts) was the laggard in this fast-developing market, but finally arrived in late 2008 with a high-end model, the Compact Extreme 50 (CX-50). The CX-50 is loaded with a digital broadband beam former gives Doppler performance and Philips migrated premium ultrasound imaging capabilities from its fixed systems into the new portable, such as PureWave and XRES.

— John Brosky, European Editor

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