What Will Become the Next Scion of Psion?

In the wake of Nokia's Symbian moves, European wireless editor Guy Kewney gets the low-down on the future of Psion from its founder and chairman.

David Potter, founder and chairman of Psion, is not a financier. Hes a genuine geek. So when he pulls out of Symbian--and make no mistake, thats what hes done--its for technical reasons.

So what has Dr. Potter got in mind?

The obvious suspect (Windows) is almost too appalling to consider. Here we have a world in which there are precious few alternatives to Redmond. Natural justice demands that the rivals have to keep faith. Heck, never mind natural justice! What about the economic well-being of the IT industry?

Nonetheless, Potter has abandoned his own brainchild, the Symbian operating system. It grew out of the EPOC operating environment for the original Psion handhelds. So what could the alternative be?

To save you sweating too much, Ill reveal all: Potters in love with Linux. But Ill admit even I had a bad moment when I realized that by selling everything except his Canadian subsidiary, Psion Teklogix, hed left himself in a situation where the only portable machine he had left was one that runs Windows CE. "Surely not!" I said.

Indeed, not, Potter assured me.

His problem with Symbian has nothing to do with a lack of faith in the technology. Rather, he says, it has more to do with the fact that Symbian is exclusively wireless.

The faith Potter has in Symbian is clear, but so is his frustration with it. The faith is amply illustrated, as he points out, by the deal hes done in selling his shares to Nokia. Psion stands to make relatively little money out of it if Symbian doesnt maintain its dominance of the phone market. If Symbian does well, Potter gets two branches of finance over the next two years, which could amply fund his other adventures in technology. Or, to put it more succinctly: he makes a bundle if Nokia sells a lot of Symbian installations.

There are going to be new Psion Teklogix announcements in this year--already revealed to shareholders--and from what I know of Potter, they are not going to be Windows announcements. His enthusiasm for Linux is not just a reflection of his admiration for Motorolas Chinese adventures.

"We are not going to get involved in handset cell phones," says Potter firmly. But its clear that this doesnt mean he lost faith with Symbian. Quite the opposite. Potter wanted to take it into other sectors. But he couldnt; Nokia has control over it, not Psion.