Nokia loses top tech brain
Psion legend joins TomTom
Exclusive One of Britain's top technologists is leaving Nokia. Charles Davies, Psion's first employee in 1981, became MD of Psion Computer before leaving to join Symbian as CTO in 2003. Since Nokia acquired the Symbian staff two years ago, he was heading up the strategy and architecture team for Nokia R&D.
A plasma physics PhD, Davies was involved in many of the milestones achieved by Britain's last computer company. Psion created its own silicon and pioneered popular mobile innovations such as flash memory to market. He stayed with the company after Psion withdrew from the consumer market in 2001, working on a partnership with Nokia to create communicators, PDAs and messaging software that never bore fruit - although the UI intended for those devices (Hildon) later appeared in Nokia's widescreen phones, and its Linux tablet.
His new destination is another home for the Psion diaspora, TomTom. TomTom's phenomenal rise from software company to consumer hardware was piloted by former colleague, Psion silicon architect and former CTO Mark Gretton (interviewed here). Another senior Psion hardware guy, Ken McAlpine, joined TomTom two years ago, after a few years as Apple's head of engineering in Cupertino.
TomTom confirmed the appointment and said more details will follow.
The fate of the 200-strong team that Davies led isn't clear. Nokia recently reorganised for the second time in six months, losing the just-appointed phone boss Rick Simonson and appointing a new CTO, Rich Green from Sun Microsystems.
The cerebral Davies gave us an hour of valuable insight into the history of Psion three years ago - but in one of those mortifying moments for a journalist, the primary recording device we were using and the backup both failed.
Neither was running Epoc. ®
I didn't even realise Charles had come over to Nokia
I've been working in Nokia since the takeover and I've never seen a single scrap of evidence that he ever worked here. To be honest I thought he'd gone somewhere else like the rest of Symbian's top level. Most of the other execs at that level make some pronouncement now and again, at least you know they're alive.
Psion have been knocked out, like Italy
The problem is that it's one of those industries where you need to ride the crest of a wave and constantly add to your patent armoury.
Everything that Psion was is a decade out of date, which means merely catching up would require licensing lots of other companies technologies or trying to navigate a patent minefield, with plenty of law suits along the way.
Realistically, Psion, or any inheritor of their once-great products, have no chance of picking up the baton at this stage. Just look at that 'Psi' PDA earlier this year. £500 for a heavy 90s-style PDA Running XP with all the battery life you'd expect. Who's going to buy that when you can get an iPhone for less? Not enough people to sustain a company as large as Psion once were.
If Psion continued, by now they'd have their own patented hardware for Wi-Fi, multitouch and god knows what else, all of which would allow them to continue competing with the other multinationals.
Psion, and all that it was, is gone forever. Tom Tom may have some old staff, but they're hardly a modern day Psion.
Also, all those involved are now 10 years older, and given that they'd already been doing this stuff since 1981, they're probably not up for trying to regroup and fight the good fight again. They probably want a quiet life, making good satnavs until retirement.
I used to work for Nokia
I was in a few meetings where Charles was speaking. He really is a pioneer, pushing for the adoption of new technologies, and trying his best to get the world to listen. I wonder if his leaving is because Nokia have stopped listening?
It's a shame Nokia have slid as far as they have - they had (*had*) some good products. Is it Nokia's intention to destroy not only their own market share but also the Symbian ecosystem? Seems liek that's what they're doing.