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16 August 2012

Psion and Motorola: natural partners?

Psion handheld - now in Motorola fold

The mobile computing world is still absorbing the implications of Psion’s decision to sell its business to Motorola Solutions.

Whilst it appears to spell the end of an iconic British brand, it could eventually lead to a much-enhanced Motorola product range, which should include derivatives of Psion’s truckmount models, as well as elements of its handheld range.

All that is for the future. For now, Psion’s full product range remains available, and includes models only recently launched, such as the Omii RT15 handheld.

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Psion was a pioneer of mobile computing. Back in 1980 it more or less invented the concept of the PDA, which first saw the light of day in the form of the consumer-targeted Organiser.

The company continued to sell to consumers until the turn of the century, but concluded that it simply lacked the scale to compete with other global consumer brands. Shrewdly, it bought into the industrial market just in time to make the switch, acquiring Canadian manufacturer Teklogix. Its main manufacturing base has remained near Toronto ever since.

Psion was also a pioneer of smartphone technology – perhaps ironic, since it never competed in this sector itself. It was a founder-member of the consortium that developed Symbian, the operating system still used by makers such as Nokia. Other stakeholders included Ericsson, Panasonic, Samsung, Siemens and Sony.

However, Psion sold off its Symbian shareholding of nearly one third back in 2004 – another shrewd move as it turned out. Although millions of phones have been sold with the Symbian operating system, it is now struggling against the likes of the Android, Apple and BlackBerry operating systems.

Motorola’s offer for Psion valued the company at £129 million, which is perhaps a sign of the heightened competitiveness of the market, given that Psion was reported to have netted more than that sum (£135 million) eight years ago for the sale of its Symbian stake.

Observers will be watching with interest to see Motorola Solutions’ plans for Psion’s Open Source Mobility business model. Psion was the first rugged computer manufacturer to adopt such a scheme, which is aimed at developers, partners and customers.

Omnii is the company’s modular platform for products, while IngenuityWorking.com is said to offer partners and customers a collaboration platform.

Clues to the future of the rest of the Psion range will probably have to await a full model refresh, which is likely to take some time. There is significant overlap with Motorola products, especially in the handheld market, but Motorola is unlikely to want to compromise potential sales to Psion users by dropping any models hastily.

According to Greg Brown, chairman and chief executive of Motorola Solutions: "Psion is a compelling opportunity to strengthen our industry-leading, mobile-computing portfolio with ruggedised handheld products and vehicle-mount terminals that will deepen our presence in the global markets in which we compete."

Psion chairman John Hawkins’ comment was: "The offer by Motorola Solutions provides Psion’s shareholders with certainty in an environment where certainty is in short supply."

Structurally Psion will become part of Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise Mobile Computing business. Just how long the Psion brand name will continue to be used is not yet clear, but history shows that acquired businesses like this lose their identity quite quickly. Five years ago, Symbol was a colossus in the rugged handheld computer market, but then Motorola acquired it, and now it is little more than a memory.

 

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