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Psion rubbishes Palm, aims Revo at wireless, ‘lifestyle’

Pulls a cute little rabbit out of hat, might not be screwed after all...

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As exclusively (and to be honest, almost entirely fortuitously) revealed here on Thursday (Revo escapes early) Psion unveiled its latest consumer palmtop, the Revo, in London earlier today. But more important, the company unveiled a new strategy that makes it clear it's been paying attention to its mobile phone buddies in Symbian. From an initial look at the product and the strategy, it starts to seem possible that Psion was doing more than whistling in the dark when it said a few weeks back that it expected sales to pick up towards the end of the year - the Revo was intended as a secret weapon, and that's what it could turn out to be. Spec-wise the Revo has a great deal in common with the original Psion Series 5, and it has a certain amount in common with the more recent 5mx as well. Some sport can be hand in asking Psion reps if they'd just like to explain the different target markets of the Revo and the 5mx. Answer: the 5mx is aimed at "upper management with lots of money" and the need to have the top technology, the Revo is more "soft-collar," more "lifestyle." Psion CEO David Levin (top management, lots of money) then kind of blew it by saying he liked the Revo. But he rescued himself (and this would have been more obvious if the audience had been more consumer electronics) by suggesting that people might actually have more than one personal organiser. This is of course a retread of the strategy Nokia has been beta-ing in Finland, and is starting to release on the rest of the world - overlapping product lines, different sizes, different functions, market penetration of 150 per cent plus. For Psion buffs it's heartening to hear the company has been paying attention. What it means is that Psion is ramping-up its product launch frequency, dumping the old 'once every two years whether it needs it or not' approach, and along the way going wildly wireless web. For the moment it's not going for one-box products like the Nokia Communicator, but is expecting (reasonably enough) most users to have a mobile phone to match their Psion box. In sharp contrast to the original 5 launch (which Psion people now tacitly admit was a leap too far) the Revo comes with immediate support for IRDA phones from Motorola, Siemens, Ericsson and Nokia. Levin says there will be a one box product when the ergonomics are right, and we take this to mean when you can run it with a Bluetooth connection to a headset. But even so, the extra weight of combining a PDA and cellphone will mean that's only one of a number of Psion products. The Symbian-cellular connection is also something Psion seems to be expecting a lot of. Levin freely admits that the company is banking on Symbian's EPOC (the Revo runs EPOC 5, as do Psion's other new machines) being the default OS for wireless, and he also expects broadband wireless to show up fairly soon. GPRS in Europe next year will be the first stage of that, and it's likely to make mobile devices like Psions instantly more usable. And rather than worrying about CE as a contender, Psion seems to be more focussed on Palm, which is fair enough, considering how badly CE and how well Palm has done in this space. Psion used to argue that Palm and the Series 5 were in separate sectors, but now Levin comments that "Palm does a third as much [as the Revo] for a great deal of money - we've leapfrogged." Palm, popular and wireless-enabled ahead of Psion, might seem to have a lead, but its US roots show. Psion's connections with the European mobile outfits and with GSM arguably give it a massive advantage. Psion's current gamble with the Revo is that it will be able to sell the machine into a wider market that wants a lighter, slimmer, mobile phone aware PDA and is going to be attracted by the Web-based mobility services Psion is setting up. It comes with a free subscription to Psion's free Internet service, psion.net, which will give access to Psion-friendly internet services, and backing it up (again, a heartening change from the Series 5 launch) Psion Dacom has launched an IRDA 56k plus GSM travel modem to go with it simultaneously. What's it like? We have one right here. The keyboard's smaller than the 5mx keyboard, but the machine's slim (weighs 200g), comes with comms and phone synchronisation, and the screen, although not backlit, is extremely sharp. It has a cutesy little base station with a charger unit (the batteries are rechargeable, rather than the usual removables) and PC comms cable, so the general idea is that you put it in the base station when you're by the PC and it syncs and recharges at the same time. At UKP300 including tax it's pricey, but Psion is banking on it being seen to be a better value and more functional package than rival devices. The company may be right - more anon, when we've had a proper play. There will also be a US model, incidentally, but Levin says Psion won't be supporting non-GSM cellular until such time as the US gets its standards act together. So there. ®

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