Worldwide shipments of personal digital assistants (PDAs) ballooned nearly 32 percent in the third quarter compared to a year ago, driven by rapid growth of cellular PDAs, new research finds.

Shipments of PDAs totaled 4.5 million units from July to September, up 31.9 from the same period in 2005, market research firm Gartner Inc. said on Thursday.

An influx of new cellular PDAs which are subsidized to some degree by wireless carriers resulted in a significant drop in [average selling price] and pushed the market to the highest shipments level in PDA market history, Todd Kort, a principal analyst at Gartner said. An estimated 62 percent of all PDAs shipped in the third quarter offered cellular connectivity, up from 49 percent the same time last year.

The firm also notes that Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system (OS) accounted for 50.3 percent of PDA OS shipments in the third quarter, up from 49.4 percent in the same period last year.

RIM OS accounted for 20.9 percent of the market, down from 25.1 percent a year ago. Gartner believes many customers are holding off on purchases until the next generation BlackBerry 8800 series is launched in early 2007.