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'It's Tough' for Symbian as Psion sees WinCE device surge

Future Proofing

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Psion Teklogix is experiencing soaring sales of its Windows CE-powered netpad devices, only months after launch. But the news, while good for Teklogix, may not be as welcome to parent company Psion Plc, whose Symbian operating system (OS) looks set to be the loser,

Tony Cripps writes

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Raf Jezierski, director mobile computing Psion Teklogix international, told ComputerWire that WinCE-powered netpads - the company's ruggedized, tablet-style mobile computing terminals, which are sold with the tagline "It's tough" - already make up 15% of the model's sales pipeline. This is despite the devices only being introduced three months ago and only shipping for one month.

Jezierski described the introduction of WinCE-based devices as "future proofing our OS strategy." That it may well achieve, but only at the expense of Symbian's presence as a platform vendor for industrial handhelds.

Jezierski believes demand for the Microsoft-powered netpad variant to ramp up rapidly. "I suspect demand will be split 50:50 globally in the next 12 months, but after that who knows," he said.

The admission speaks volumes for Microsoft's growing status in the wireless-enabled device market. Symbian OS, derived from London, UK-based Psion's earlier EPOC OS, was built specifically to enable wireless handheld computers and smart phones.

By comparison, Microsoft's WinCE, and its consumer derivatives Pocket PC and Windows Smartphone, have only belatedly added native wireless capabilities. As such, it might have been expected to provide the more popular form of propulsion for the new netpad options featuring either 802.11b wireless LAN (WLAN) and GSM/GPRS connectivity, launched Tuesday.

Jazierski attributes the shift to a growing awareness of how Microsoft's next-generation pervasive computing vision might change mobile computing. "Wireless will help sales until .NET comes in. Many of our software partners are already porting their software to .NET," he said.

The uncertainty that .NET web services will be available to non-Microsoft devices - despite the company's assurances - raises doubts as to Symbian's long-term future as an industrial handheld OS provider. Add to this the vast army of software developers tied to Microsoft platforms and the fact that Psion Teklogix is currently the only industrial mobile terminal vendor offering Symbian OS, and the writing looks to be firmly on the wall.

Psion Teklogic does not even charge a premium for WinCE devices, despite having to pay Microsoft considerably more for licenses than it does to Symbian.

With demand apparently shifting towards Microsoft's rival technology, Psion Teklogix could easily find itself at odds with its parent. Psion still owns 28.1% of Symbian, making it the mobile OS developer's largest single shareholder. However, Jezierski moved to allay fears of a schism. "Psion is not in competition with Symbian," he said.

The new netpad 5120, 5520, 5100 and 5510 models are available now for between 2,000 and 3,500 euros ($1,965 and $3,439), depending on which radio is fitted and whether they have a built in barcode scanner. A dual-radio version, sporting both WLAN and GSM/GPRS, is expected to follow in due course.

© ComputerWire

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