Psion: the Saga Continues
Psion launched the Series 5 in June, with much fanfare and a star studded media lunch, with promises of instant availability. Psion have suffered badly from problems on their production line, with capacity running barely at 25,000 units per month, down from a capacity of 40,000 units. Problems with suppliers have means that barely one in ten units have passed testing at some stages. It seems that now Psion have issued a recall on the main power adaptor (sold separately), so their problems still aren't over.
One source alleges that problems with the casing have caused many rejections, including the rubberised textured covering over the casing. I mentioned my own experience with this paint easily falling off in my last column. Another source points out that Psion are using the ARM 7100 produced by Cirrus Logic, and there may have been problems with supplies of this processor chip coming from only a single source. The 7100 includes several other circuits integrated with the basic ARM processor, including the compression circuit used by the memo recorder in the Series 5. Digital Corporation have just recently announced a similarly highly integrated version of the much more powerful Strong ARM processor, the SA-1100, which could be a candidate for a new model from Psion sometime next year.
With 25,000 units being produced, you might think that this was enough to at least keep up with demand in the UK, but Psion say that they are favouring the US market above UK customers. The UK's largest Psion retailer, the Dixons/Currys/The Link chain (at least according to my local shop manager) has been receiving batches of only 250 Series 5s at a time, and individual shops have been receiving one or two units in weekly batches. Apparently stock is going to pre-placed orders by preference, but the quickest way of getting hold of a Psion Series 5 is to place an on-line order from Dixons web site. People placing orders in this way have claimed to receive their order within a week. As with the PalmPilot, it looks like the web is the best way to buy; or in this case, the only way.
The salesmen will happily tell you the Psion is both a better machine overall, and better value, than the Hewlett-Packard Windows CE HPC's that they also sell; but when they can get adequate stocks of one and not the other, it's clear exactly who's product is flying out of the door in volume.
Following complaints from Psion Series 3 users upgrading to the Series 5, and discovering Series 3 functions missing from the Series 5, as well as a higher than might otherwise be expected volume of bug reports, Psion have announced that a ROM upgrade to version 1.1 will be available sometime in the first half of 1998. This will be a daughter board swap, but unlike the Windows CE upgrade, will invalidate your warranty if you do it yourself. The price will be about £50. This upgrade will specifically address missing features, according to Psion.
Independently of the 1.1 upgrade, there have been reports during August that Psion Software (a different company from Psion Ltd, who sell the Series 5 products) have issued a 1.01 revision of the EPOC/32 software that the Series 5 is based upon. I haven't received reports as yet of this revision reaching customers.
In the past with Psion products, interested developers have been able to buy a developer kit (SDK) to use to develop software for Psion on a desktop PC. With EPOC/32, Psion now have created a web site for developers, to which they can subscribe. A subscription costs £200 per year for C++ developers, or £75 per year for OPL developers. This gives the developer access to non-public areas of the site, and includes a Windows 95 or NT based version of EPOC/32, including all of the Series 5 applications. An appropriate CD containing the SDK and documentation is emailed to subscribers. The documentation for developers is available from the site in a public area, for download free of charge to any interested parties.
Other parts of Psions grand plans for EPOC/32 are starting to reveal themselves. At the launch much was made of their plans for Internet access, and integration with GSM phones, and other communications applications. Psion also strongly hinted that other licensees for EPOC/32, not just Psion Ltd, would be revealed during the latter part of this year. The first of these, Philips Consumer Communications, has just announced a mobile phone to be released this year, running EPOC/32. I haven't seen details of the device yet, but if the phone functions are as well integrated with the operating system as with the Nokia 9000, this has the potential to be the perfect marriage of phone and PDA functions.
New releases of third party software for the Psion Series 5 are coming, but possibly slower than I would have hoped. Some developers for the Series 3 have said that the development environment for the Series 5 isn't as flexible as the Series 3 was, which effectively blocks them from porting their applications to the Series 5.
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