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The Mobile Road: Looking Back, Looking Forward

By looking at the past trajectory of mobile devices in the marketplace, we can better understand where mobile computing is headed.


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’ve been doing mobile software development of one sort or another for time out of mind. Some of the first serious programs I wrote were for an HP-41CX calculator for engineering and sales purposes for the electronics industry. In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to watch the market go through several cycles of fragmentation and consolidation. Each has been subtly different, but there have been common threads to all.

Stopping to look at some of the most successful—and unsuccessful—entries into the mobile market helps us gain perspective as to where the market is today and where it’s going. Of course, this brief summary can’t mention every business involved in mobile computing, let alone even all of the most influential. But it can touch on a few that advanced the market in significant ways, and close with some conclusions about where we’re headed.

Looking at the most successful—and unsuccessful—entries into the mobile market helps us gain perspective as to where the market is today and where it’s going.
Psion
Psion, a company based in the UK, began its life as a software publisher in the 1980’s, and in 1984, released what most recognize to be the first mass-market mobile computers, the Psion Ogranizer. By 1987, Psion was working on a sixteen-bit version of its software platform and associated hardware, including the multitasking EPOC operating system. EPOC went through several evolutions and a second effort before it brought commercial success on the Series 5 Psion devices, popular among many save early adopters of previous Psion hardware.



Psion found itself in dangerous waters in the late 90’s. Mobile devices had become a global market with many platforms and players, and Psion found it difficult to compete due to the plethora of mobile devices available from other manufacturers. An additional challenge to Psion was the degree to which the mobile device market had gone global; in Europe, where Psion had done well, Psion was competing against low-cost Palm handhelds and Windows Mobile devices. Consumer product development slowed, and eventually halted altogether by 2001.

Although Psion’s name is not well-known today—after its acquisition of Canadian Teklogix it remains as Psion Teklogix, selling business-to-business products—EPOC lives on as the foundation for Symbian, about which you’ll read more in a moment.



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