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Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Sayonara Psion era
Photos of BioEddie's Psion collection
Some of BioEddie's collection
So it's farewell to the Psion organiser. The company that pioneered handheld organisers has decided to stop making them. How different things could have been, writes BBC News Online's Giles Wilson.

Fans of the Psion organiser, many of whom have been using successive generations of the machines for years, may well be feeling hard done by.

For the devices which they have been using to organise their lives have suddenly reached the end of theirs. Psion has announced it is no longer going to make handheld organisers.

It was a long, tall thing with a two-line display at the top. It was fairly basic, but most things were in those days.

Eddie Slupski
It could so easily have been different. Psion, after all, was founded in 1980 and released its first organiser in 1984. In other words, it had that thing that so many business crave - first mover advantage.

One of its best friends in the early days was Marks & Spencer, which bought a job lot of Psions to keep track of prices at the checkouts. It is a twist of irony that both these British institutions are now facing tough times.

And the company was not short of fans.

Eddie Slupski, known in the Psion community as BioEddie, first got enthusiastic about Psion in 1983. Since then, he estimates he has owned at least 20 different Psion organisers.

Right now, we don't look like a successful company.

Psion boss Peter Bancroft announcing the company's shift.
He bought his first one after having some problems with early PCs.

"I saw it on the shelf, and thought I rather liked it," he says. "It was a long, tall thing with a two-line display at the top. It was fairly basic, but most things were in those days. "

It's a modern world

Bolstered by its innovation and dedicated fan base, in the late '80s, and early '90s Psion became a symbol of how a British company could cut it in the modern world.

Owning a Psion, even though the early models were basic, was a real statement. Others may have sneered, saying how much easier a paper diary was to use, but Psion devotees remained fiercely loyal.

Eddie recalls: "I used to get weird looks from people, they would ask why I wasting my time on that thing - they would say it was a toy.

"I thought: 'No, it's not a toy.' I could see the Psion vision. I could see where it was going. That made me more and more involved.

"It's a bit like following a football team. You like Manchester United, your loyalties are there. It's a bit like that. You become addicted to it.

"It becomes part of your life, it becomes your second brain," he says.

Badge of pride

The ultimate accolade, a badge of pride for the Psion community, came when Microsoft's Bill Gates said Psion was the company he worried most about.

Gates: Worried most about Psion
Sure enough competitors came along - most notably Palm, but also devices running Microsoft's PocketPC platform. The British firm fought its competitors valiantly.

But although the market for handhelds grew and grew, Psion's early dominance waned. Last year, its share of the market slumped to 8.9%, while Palm and PocketPC devices had 60% and 30% respectively.

Psion's gloom at leaving the market is tempered by optimism that its venture Symbian with Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola to make software platforms for mobile phones, would secure the company's future.

Continued support

The company did say it would continue to support the devices for as long as it was selling them into the market.

But the Psion community are not convinced. Ewan Spence, who has been using a Psion since 1992 and writes freeware programs for other users to download, says he feels like they have been left "high and dry".

"Psion has got a huge following," he says. "And people don't actually want to start using other devices.

It's like following a football team

Eddie Slupski
"Most Psion users will say they don't want to touch Microsoft products with a bargepole, and they will say the Palm machines don't have enough power. There's nowhere really for them to go."

Eddie Slupski remains undaunted in his belief, though. "I think the Psion will live on. It's not a sad end - I can see that they will have to bring out a new machine in about three years' time. There's no reason not to."

To the phones

In the meantime, he thinks other Psion users will shun Palm and PocketPC devices and instead start using phones such as the Nokia 9210, which uses the technology Psion developed through its Symbian partnership.

One tragic footnote in the history of the Psion came in July 2000. Salesman Gary Debruin, who had stabbed his 33-year-old wife more than 100 times and then strangled her, was convicted of her murder.

Debruin claimed that his wife had been a victim of burglars. But when police searched through his Psion 3, they found something which eventually helped prove the case against him. A note detailing his plans for committing the murder included this chilling phrase: "rubber glvs - throwt - take tel off hook - leave purse out with contents spread about - take chq crd & crdt crds - ring mobile."

Your comments:

I never heard of Psion until just now. It sounds like it's exactly what I'm looking for, with its keyboard. More advertising in the US may have saved them.
Don McLeod, USA

Psion as a company might have stopped producing the handheld units but there are some alternatives. Ericsson make a version under licence (I think it is just rebadged from Psion) as do Oregon Scientific (The Osaris is similar to the 5 I think) who have licensed the operating system. Perhaps one of these two could take over the unit production and Psion can concentrate on the operating system development?
Greg Henriksen, England

I worked for PC World in 1995 and Psion came to show their range of systems. They blew us all away and the techies amongst us were looking forward to all sorts of developments from this most promising of UK based companies. I asked the product manager if a phone system as either an add-on or an integral part of the system was an option. She smiled and said, that's something we're looking at very closely but we can't really talk about it. If Psion had gone down that road and been first or among the first to bring that level of convergence to the market, Handspring and Palm may never have been formed. Sadly, Psion may fall into the hands of foreign investors and like Jaguar cars, this uniquely British piece of design will become homogenised and globalised. What a sad loss.
Tim Hodgetts, Belgium

Still can't see myself using anything else other than my Psion Series 5. I actually abandoned Palm and Windows CE devices for Psion. Still think the decision was wise. Nothing beats having a keyboard device of the quality of Psion.
Rolando A. Rodriguez, Philippines

A shame indeed. The Psion series of machines were the most stable and usable software tools I've yet met. The machines work exactly as expected and had the single feature that would would totally change our relationships with PCs, they all switch on and off instantly. I switch on the Psion and I start work that second. Even my newest laptop takes almost four mins to get going! Perhaps someone small could pick up the product line and carry on developing it?
Hugh Waters, Gt Britain

I bought a Compaq ipaq a year ago - now it is up for sale and I've reverted back to my Psion 3a - 8 years old & still going strong!
Martin Kalugin, UK

It's far too early to begin remembering Psion. (I wrote half a thesis on one). There must be a way for these very well-designed machines that answer a real need for those who prefer a keyboard - to continue.
Michael Neugarten, Israel

Hard to believe that Psion have given up in this part of the market. I wrote almost a whole Degree project and got a 1st for it using a Psion Series 5 - fantastic machine and very versatile! I still use it and it will be a shame to see that it will now become somewhat obsolete. I believe that Psion'ss partnership with Nokia et al. (resulting in Symbian) was a real threat to Microsoft (in the PDA market). Surely Psion must reconsider?
Andrew Rogers, United Kingdom

I've been using a Psion for the past 6 years. There really isn't anything on the market to rival them if you want a real palmtop computer for a reasonable price. I think they, like many British organisations, have failed to think ahead and maintain their market. A few years ago I recall Psion announcing that they were developing a tablet based device around the same time they were working on the Series 7. The 7 appeared, but what ever happened to the tablet? How different things might have been had they released it.
Lee Mason, UK

I have had Psions since 1986 and have found them invaluable. I have found them reliable apart from the early Series 3 where I exchanged 7 because the task keys failed. Psion's customer service department is the worse I have ever come across.
Richard Sandall, England

EPOC is possibly one of the best operating systems ever developed. People I know with WinCE and PalmOS machines can't believe how much my current Psion can do and how much data it can handle. Mind you, it doesn't survive very well if you drop it.
Richard A, UK

Long battery life, excellent word processor, easy to carry, good keyboard, great functions, sufficient memory, too bad it's lost. I have a Psion 5, my daughter owns another.
Jacobo Archuleta, US

I think Psion could have done with better marketing in America. I am the only Brit in a US firm and I use a Psion Revo. Everyone else uses some form of Palm but have all indicated to me that they would rather have bought a Psion if they had known they existed.
Austin Platt, USA

I got my first (and so far only) Psion machine, a Siena organiser, from my parents for my 18th birthday. Three years later and it still serves me well. I use it for writing when I'm away from home, and the Palm and PocketPC organisers, without a keyboard, just don't cut the mustard for me. Psion made the finest organisers and handheld computers in the world. Unfortunately they're another sad case of an innovative British IT firm unable to sell themselves (memories of Acorn).
Rich Mackin, UK

This is a sad day for all of us who want a real pocket PC with a keyboard in order to do real work on the move. All the competition to the Psion is based around a keyboardless touchscreen, which while ideal for jotter notes and phone numbers suffer poorly in comparison for larger scale applications.

This is also the end of a series of design innovations unparalleled in the field. The Series 3's three-part clamshell design and the Series 5's sliding keyboard were unique in the desktop stability they provided, particularly when using the 5's touchscreen. The competition had a tendency to fall over.
Peter Denyer, UK

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