Talking about the Psion and Palm PDAs and the Nokia Communicators
The History of PDA’s
The first PDA, the Organiser, was released in 1984 by Psion, followed by Psion’s Series 3, in 1991. The latter began to resemble the more familiar PDA style, including a full keyboard.The term PDA was first used on January 7, 1992 by Apple Inc. CEO John Sculley at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, referring to the Apple Newton. In 1994, IBM introduced the first PDA with analog cellular phone functionality, the IBM Simon, which can also be considered the first smartphone. Then in 1996, Nokia introduced a PDA with digital cellphone functionality, the 9000 Communicator. Another early entrant in this market was Palm, with a line of PDA products which began in March 1996.
Palm would eventually be the dominant vendor of PDAs until the rising popularity of Pocket PC devices in the early 2000s. By mid-2000s most PDAs had morphed into smartphones as classic PDAs without cellular radios were increasingly becoming uncommon.
A typical PDA has a touchscreen for navigation, a memory card slot for data storage, and IrDA, Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi. However, some PDAs may not have a touchscreen, using softkeys, a directional pad, and a numeric keypad or a thumb keyboard for input. To have the functions expected of a PDA, a device’s software typically includes an appointment calendar, a to-do list, an address book for contacts, a calculator, and some sort of memo (or “note”) program. PDAs with wireless data connections also typically include an email client and a Web browser, and may or may not include telephony functionality.
Many of the original PDAs, such as the Apple Newton and Palm Pilot, featured a touchscreen for user interaction, having only a few buttons—usually reserved for shortcuts to often-used programs. Some touchscreen PDAs, including Windows Mobile devices, had a detachable stylus to facilitate making selections. The user interacts with the device by tapping the screen to select buttons or issue commands, or by dragging a finger (or the stylus) on the screen to make selections or scroll.
Typical methods of entering text on touchscreen PDAs include:
A virtual keyboard, where a keyboard is shown on the touchscreen. Text is entered by tapping the on-screen keyboard with a finger or stylus.
An external keyboard connected via USB, Infrared port, or Bluetooth. Some users may choose a chorded keyboard for one-handed use.
Handwriting recognition, where letters or words are written on the touchscreen, often with a stylus, and the PDA converts the input to text. Recognition and computation of handwritten horizontal and vertical formulas, such as “1 + 2 =”, may also be a feature.
Stroke recognition allows the user to make a predefined set of strokes on the touchscreen, sometimes in a special input area, representing the various characters to be input. The strokes are often simplified character shapes, making them easier for the device to recognize. One widely known stroke recognition system is Palm’s Graffiti.
Despite research and development projects, end-users experience mixed results with handwriting recognition systems. Some find it frustrating and inaccurate, while others are satisfied with the quality of the recognition.
Touchscreen PDAs intended for business use, such as the BlackBerry and Palm Treo, usually also offer full keyboards and scroll wheels or thumbwheels to facilitate data entry and navigation. Many touchscreen PDAs support some form of external keyboard as well. Specialized folding keyboards, which offer a full-sized keyboard but collapse into a compact size for transport, are available for many models. External keyboards may attach to the PDA directly, using a cable, or may use wireless technology such as infrared or Bluetooth to connect to the PDA. Newer PDAs, such as the HTC HD2, Apple iPhone, Apple iPod Touch, and Palm Pre, Palm Pre Plus, Palm Pixi, Palm Pixi Plus, Google Android (operating system) include more advanced forms of touchscreen that can register multiple touches simultaneously. These “multi-touch” displays allow for more sophisticated interfaces using various gestures entered with one or more fingers.
Although many early PDAs did not have memory card slots, now most have either some form of Secure Digital (SD) slot, a CompactFlash slot or a combination of the two. Although designed for memory, Secure Digital Input/Output (SDIO) and CompactFlash cards are available that provide accessories like Wi-Fi or digital cameras, if the device can support them. Some PDAs also have a USB port, mainly for USB flash drives.[dubious – discuss] Some PDAs use microSD cards, which are electronically compatible with SD cards, but have a much smaller physical size.
While early PDAs connected to a user’s personal computer via serial ports or another proprietary connection,[specify] many today connect via a USB cable. Older PDAs were unable to connect to each other via USB, as their implementations of USB didn’t support acting as the “host”. Some early PDAs were able to connect to the Internet indirectly by means of an external modem connected via the PDA’s serial port or “sync” connector, or directly by using an expansion card that provided an Ethernet port.
Most modern PDAs have Bluetooth, a popular wireless protocol for mobile devices. Bluetooth can be used to connect keyboards, headsets, GPS receivers, and other nearby accessories. It’s also possible to transfer files between PDAs that have Bluetooth. Many modern PDAs have Wi-Fi wireless network connectivity and can connect to Wi-Fi hotspots. All smartphones, and some other modern PDAs, can connect to Wireless Wide Area Networks, such as those provided by cellular telecommunications companies. Older PDAs from the 1990s to 2006 typically had an IrDA (infrared) port allowing short-range, line-of-sight wireless communication. Few current models use this technology, as it has been supplanted by Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. IrDA allows communication between two PDAs, or between a PDA and any device with an IrDA port or adapter. Some printers have IrDA receivers, allowing IrDA-equipped PDAs to print to them, if the PDA’s operating system supports it. Universal PDA keyboards designed for these older PDAs use infrared technology. Infrared technology is low-cost and has the advantage of being allowed aboard.[specify]
Most PDAs can synchronize their data with applications on a user’s computer. This allows the user to update contact, schedule, or other information on their computer, using software such as Microsoft Outlook or ACT!, and have that same data transferred to PDA—or transfer updated information from the PDA back to the computer. This eliminates the need for the user to update their data in two places. Synchronization also prevents the loss of information stored on the device if it is lost, stolen, or destroyed. When the PDA is repaired or replaced, it can be “re-synced” with the computer, restoring the user’s data. Some users find that data input is quicker on their computer than on their PDA, since text input via a touchscreen or small-scale keyboard is slower than a full-size keyboard. Transferring data to a PDA via the computer is therefore a lot quicker than having to manually input all data on the handheld device.
Most PDAs come with the ability to synchronize to a computer. This is done through synchronization software provided with the handheld, or sometime with the computer’s operating system. Examples of synchronization software include:
HotSync Manager, for Palm OS PDAs
Microsoft ActiveSync, used by Windows XP and older Windows operating systems to synchronize with Windows Mobile, Pocket PC, and Windows CE PDAs, as well as PDAs running iOS, Palm OS, and Symbian
Microsoft Windows Mobile Device Center for Windows Vista, which supports Microsoft Windows Mobile and Pocket PC devices
Apple iTunes, used on Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows to sync iOS devices (such as the iPhone and iPod touch)
iSync, included with Mac OS X, can synchronize many SyncML-enabled PDAs
BlackBerry Desktop Software, used to sync BlackBerry devices.
These programs allow the PDA to be synchronized with a personal information manager, which may be part of the computer’s operating system, provided with the PDA, or sold separately by a third party. For example, the RIM BlackBerry comes with RIM’s Desktop Manager program, which can synchronize to both Microsoft Outlook and ACT!. Other PDAs come only with their own proprietary software. For example, some early Palm OS PDAs came only with Palm Desktop, while later Palm PDAs—such as the Treo 650—have the ability to sync to Palm Desktop or Microsoft Outlook. Microsoft’s ActiveSync and Windows Mobile Device Center only synchronize with Microsoft Outlook or a Microsoft Exchange server. Third-party synchronization software is also available for some PDAs from companies like CommonTime and CompanionLink.Third-party software can be used to synchronize PDAs to other personal information managers that are not supported by the PDA manufacturers (for example, GoldMine and IBM Lotus Notes).
Some PDAs can synchronize some or all of their data using their wireless networking capabilities, rather than having to be directly connected to a personal computer via a cable. Devices running Palm’s webOS or Google’s Android operating system primarily sync with the cloud. For example, if Gmail is used, information in contacts, email, and calendar can be synchronized between the PDA and Google’s servers. RIM sells BlackBerry Enterprise Server to corporations so that corporate BlackBerry users can wirelessly synchronize their PDAs with the company’s Microsoft Exchange Server, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise servers. Email, calendar entries, contacts, tasks, and memos kept on the company’s server are automatically synchronized with the BlackBerry.
Operating systems of PDAs
The most common operating systems pre-installed on PDAs are:
- Palm OS
- Microsoft Windows Mobile (Pocket PC) with a Windows CE kernel
Other, rarely used operating systems:
- EPOC, then Symbian OS (in mobile phone + PDA combos)
- Linux (e.g. VR3, iPAQ, Sharp Zaurus PDA, Opie, GPE, Familiar Linux etc.)
- QNX (also on iPAQ)
Palm and Psion – two of the most famous PDA brands of their time IMHO
Palm, Inc. was an American company that specialized in manufacturing personal digital assistants (PDAs) and various other electronics. They were the designer of the PalmPilot the first PDA successfully marketed worldwide, as well as the Treo 600, one of the first smartphones. Palm developed several versions of Palm OS for PDAs and smartphones. The company was also responsible for the first versions of webOS, the first multitasking operating system for smartphones, and enyo.js, a framework for HTML5 apps.
In July 2010, Palm was purchased by Hewlett-Packard (HP) and in 2011 announced a new range of webOS products. However, after poor sales, HP CEO Léo Apotheker announced in August 2011 that it would end production and support of Palm and webOS devices, marking the end of the Palm brand after 19 years.
In October 2014, HP sold the Palm trademark to a shelf corporation tied to the Chinese electronics firm TCL Corporation. Shortly afterward, TCL confirmed its plans to revive the Palm brand on future, crowdsourced smartphones. The mynewpalm.com since then is not working as a website.
History of Palm Inc.
Palm, headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, was responsible for numerous products including the Pre and Pixi as well as the Treo and Centro smartphones. Previous product lines include the Pilot 1000, Palm Pilot Pro, Palm III, Palm V, Palm VII, Zire and Tungsten.
While their older devices run Palm OS Garnet, four editions of the Treo run Windows Mobile.
Founding and acquisition
Palm Computing, Inc. was founded in 1992 by Jeff Hawkins, who later hired Donna Dubinsky and Ed Colligan, all of whom guided Palm to the invention of Palm Pilot. The company was originally started to write software for the Zoomer, a consumer PDA manufactured by Casio for Tandy. The Zoomer devices were also distributed by Casio and GRiD, while Palm provided the PIM software. The PEN/GEOS operating system was provided by Geoworks.
The Zoomer failed commercially, but Palm continued generating revenue by selling synchronization software for HP devices, and the Graffiti handwriting recognition software for the Apple Newton MessagePad.
The company was acquired by U.S. Robotics Corp. in 1995. In June 1997, U.S. Robotics was acquired by 3Com and Palm became a 3Com subsidiary.
In June 1998, the founders became unhappy with the direction in which 3Com was taking the company, and left to found Handspring.
(( Handspring PDA’s worth their own episode IMHO ))
Stock offering and split into PalmSource and PalmOne
3Com made the Palm subsidiary an independent, publicly traded company on March 1, 2000, and it traded on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol PALM. Palm Inc had its IPO during the dot-com bubble and in its first day of trading the shares of the new company hit an all-time high of US$95.06. But competition and the end of the tech bubble caused Palm’s shares to lose 90% of their value in just over a year. By June 2001 the company’s shares were trading at US$6.50, making it the worst performing PDA manufacturer on the NASDAQ index at the time.
In January 2002, Palm set up a wholly owned subsidiary to develop and license Palm OS which was named PalmSource in February. PalmSource was then spun off from Palm as an independent company. In October 2003, the hardware division of the company merged with Handspring, was renamed to palmOne, Inc. and traded under the ticker symbol PLMO. The Palm trademark was held by a jointly owned holding company.
United as a single company
In May 2005, palmOne purchased PalmSource’s share in the ‘Palm’ trademark for US$30 million. In July 2005, palmOne launched its new name and brand, reverting to Palm, Inc. and trading under the ticker symbol PALM once again.
In late 2005, ACCESS, which specializes in mobile and embedded web browser technologies, acquired PalmSource for US$324 million.
On January 4, 2006, Palm released the Palm Treo 700w, the first Windows Mobile-powered Treo, in a partnership with Verizon Wireless and Microsoft.
In December 2006, Palm, Inc. paid US$44 million to ACCESS for an irrevocable license to use and modify the source code for Palm OS Garnet as well as ship Palm OS Garnet in any Palm product without paying royalties; with this arrangement, the Palm company could once again develop both its hardware and software.
In June 2007, Palm formed a strategic relationship with the private-equity firm Elevation Partners, who purchased a 25% equity stake of the company for US$325 million – an investment that came after months of rumours about a possible Palm sale. Palm CEO Ed Colligan acknowledged that “We were approached by larger parties over the last six months,” and “the reality is that we thought this was the best outcome for our business and our investors.”
On December 18, 2008, Palm CEO Ed Colligan announced that the company would no longer develop any new handheld PDAs. Palm announced the webOS operating system and Palm Pre smartphone at the Consumer Electronics Show on January 8, 2009, and released on June 6, 2009 with Sprint. The design team was led by Matias Duarte, Mike Bell, Peter Skillman and Michael Abbott.
In early 2009, the hype over WebOS sent Palm’s stock from US$3 to a high of about US$18. While reviews of the Palm Pre were positive, launching with only one U.S. carrier (Sprint, which was also a distant third in the market) proved to be a crucial mistake that limited sales, even though it became Sprint’s phone. The Pre was often described as Palm’s swan song as it was too late to keep the company – with only $250 million in cash and short- term investments at the beginning of 2009 – independent for long. By 2010 the share price of Palm dropped to below US$4.
Acquisition by HP and demise
On April 28, 2010, Hewlett-Packard announced it would purchase Palm at $5.70 a share for $1.2 billion in an all-cash deal. The acquisition was completed on July 1, 2010.
The Palm global business unit was to be responsible for webOS software development and webOS-based hardware products, from a robust smartphone roadmap to future slate PCs and netbooks. However, on August 18, 2011, HP announced that it would discontinue production of all webOS devices, including smartphones and tablets.
In February 2011, HP unveiled a new line of WebOS products, including the Pre 3, Veer, and TouchPad; however, these products were branded under HP’s name and not with the Palm name. In July 2011, as part of a reorganization, WebOS head Jon Rubinstein was demoted from senior vice president to a “product innovation role”, and replaced by Steven DeWitt, head of HP’s North American consumer PC unit. At the same time, Palm was renamed the “webOS global business unit”, effectively ending the use of the Palm brand.
The launch of the TouchPad was met with extremely poor sales; on August 18, 2011, HP announced that it would immediately end the production and support of all Palm and WebOS devices, and would be “exploring options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward”, including a potential sale of the division to another company. HP also cancelled the U.S. release for the Pre 3 and Veer, and infamously, held a fire sale on remaining TouchPad stock, lowering prices for the tablet to as low as US$99 (which, however, led to a major spike in demand for the device). The decision, made by HP’s CEO at the time Léo Apotheker, along with its $11.7 billion acquisition of Autonomy, and threats to spin-off HP’s consumer business, led to a major decline in HP’s market performance, with its shares falling in value by 45.4%.
Following the resignation of Apotheker and his replacement by Meg Whitman, it was announced in December 2011 that an open source version of much of WebOS would be created. Shortly afterward, Jon Rubinstein, along with a number of other senior Palm staff members, began to leave HP. On August 15, 2012, it was revealed that HP had re-organized the remaining WebOS team as a unit known as “Gram”, made up of the remaining components of Palm. In February 2013, HP announced that it had sold the WebOS team, along with a license to the WebOS source code, documentation, and underlying patents, to LG Electronics. LG planned to primarily utilize the WebOS platform for its smart TV products, rather than on mobile devices, but did not rule out the possibility.
TCL ownership, new device
On December 30, 2014, it was reported that in October 2014, HP had sold the Palm trademark and related intellectual properties to Wide Progress Global Limited, a shelf company controlled by Nicolas Zibell — a regional president of TCL Corporation, which markets Android smartphones under the Alcatel brand. At the same time, it was discovered that the former Palm.com now redirected to MyNewPalm.com; the site displayed a “coming soon” page with the previous orange Palm logo, and the slogan “Smart move”, which is also the slogan used by Alcatel OneTouch.
TCL publicly confirmed its acquisition of the Palm brand on January 6, 2015, stating that it planned to “re-create” the company with a new team based in Silicon Valley, and incorporate crowdsourcing into its product development.
On October 15, 2018, a new Palm companion device was unveiled, which is manufactured by a new Palm-branded startup company from California that is financially backed by TCL and basketball player Stephen Curry. It is an “ultra-mobile”, Android-based device designed to serve as a smaller, simplified companion to a larger smartphone. The new device was announced as being exclusive to Verizon Wireless, only available as an add-on to an existing or new device plan
The Psion series of PDAs
Psion was a designer and manufacturer of mobile handheld computers for commercial and industrial applications. The company was headquartered in London, England with major operations in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada and additional company offices in Europe, the United States, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. It was a public company listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE: PON) and was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.
Psion’s operational business was formed in September 2000 from a merger of Psion and Canadian-based Teklogix Inc. and was a global provider of solutions for mobile computing and wireless data collection. The Group’s products and services include rugged mobile hardware, secure wireless networks, robust software, professional services and support programs. Psion works with its clients in the area of new and emerging technologies including image capture, voice recognition and RFID. Psion has customers in more than 80 countries around the world, as well as operations in 14 countries.
Formed in 1980, Psion achieved its first successes as a consumer hardware company that developed the revolutionary Psion Organiser as well as a whole range of more advanced, clamshell-design Personal Digital Assistants. Psion closed, or disposed of, all its previous operations and is now focused on rugged mobile computing solutions. It withdrew from the consumer devices marketplace in 2001. It was announced on 15 June 2012 that Motorola Solutions had agreed to buy the company for $200 million
The Psion Organiser was the brand name of a range of pocket computers developed by the British company Psion in the 1980s. The Organiser I (launched in 1984) and Organiser II (launched in 1986) had a characteristic hard plastic sliding cover protecting a 6×6 keyboard with letters arranged alphabetically.
Launched in 1984, the Psion Organiser was the “world’s first practical pocket computer”. Based on an 8-bit Hitachi 6301-family processor, running at 0.9 MHz, with 4 kB of ROM and 2 kB of static RAM and had a single-row monochrome LCD screen. The size with the case closed is 142 × 78 × 29.3 mm, and the mass is 225 grams.
BYTE‘s reviewer described the Organiser’s software as a “clever design … for fast and foolproof use”. He approved of the consistent user interface across applications and reported that without documentation he was able to figure out how to do everything except program in 15 minutes. The machine provided a simple flat-file database, calculator and clock, and had no operating system. The Organiser I supported removable storage write-once devices, which used EPROM storage. The machine could host two of these so-called DATAPAKs (or simply PAKs), to which it could write data, but which needed to be removed from the machine and erased by being exposed to ultraviolet light before they could be re-used. As Psion had patented the use of EPROMS as storage device, it was impossible for other device manufacturers to copy this unusual approach to mobile storage.
Software supplied on DATAPAK included a crude programming language called POPL, in which end-users could write their own programs. Software DATAPAKs titled Science, Maths and Finance contained the POPL programming language editor, interpreter and runtime and extended the built-in calculator by adding named functions. These DATAPAKs also contained different sets of application programs written in the POPL language.
A far more sophisticated programming tool was later made available with the implementation of the Forth programming language, but was available to registered professional developers rather than end users. The Psion Forth Development System for the Organiser I was a powerful set of IBM PC-based cross-development tools for producing Forth application programs, including a Forth compiler. The Forth system on the Organiser I itself had a compiler to intermediate code, interpreter and runtime, and had a number of unusual design features one being that it could interpret – that is, read and execute – Forth intermediate code directly in place on a DATAPAK, rather than needing to copy it into precious RAM first, despite the DATAPAKs not being execute-in-place memory-mapped.
Software developed by Psion as part of the Organiser I project and application software after its launch was written in 6301 assembler language, in POPL, and in other custom-designed languages. Assembler language development at Psion itself was carried out using cross-development tools, including a cross assembler and linker, all of which ran on a DEC VAX
In 1986, the successful Organiser II introduced a number of hardware improvements, a better keyboard and display, a much larger ROM and either 8 KiB (CM Model), 16 or 32 KiB (XP Model), 32 or 64 KiB (later LZ Model) of battery-backed RAM, and featured a capable newly designed single-tasking operating system. The first Organiser II models featured a two-line display. The new model supported a number of different types of improved DATAPAKs, containing either EPROM or battery-backed RAM storage, each storing between 8 KiB and 128 KiB of data. Later flashpaks (EEPROM) and RAMpaks were added to the range, capable of storing up to 256 KiB on each extension slot.
The machine had vastly more application functionality, including a number of built-in application programs, an easy-to-use database, a diary and an alarm clock and featured end-user programmability in the form of the successful Organiser Programming Language (OPL), a BASIC-like language, which was compiled to intermediate code, in contrast to the interpreters, which were commonly available for other consumer computers of the time. More advanced users could reach into the system machine-code routines, either by direct machine code or by calls from OPL, and could manipulate the built-in address database, as well as create their own.
The Organiser II was widely used for commercial applications in companies such as Marks and Spencer, where it was used on the shop floor, with their branding as opposed to PSION’s and with only limited keys visible to the end user. It was also used in the world’s first large-scale application of mobile technology in government, where over 3000 were used for benefit calculations by the Employment Services department of the UK government. It proved popular with surveyors who interfaced it with their electronic theodolites, which proved to be the precursor to the now popular total station.
The Organiser II also had an external device slot, into which various plug-in modules could be fitted, including a device that provided an RS232 port (called “CommsLink”), thus enabling it to communicate with other devices or computers. This “top slot” also supported various other hardware additions, such as telephone dialers, a speech synthesiser, barcode reader and even a dedicated thermal printer. This latter was used by several banks as a counter-top exchange-rate calculator for some years. As it was easy to get hardware specifications, numerous bespoke devices were developed by small companies such as A/D converters and even an interface to the entire range of Mitutoyo measuring equipment, allowing it to be used in quality control for various car manufacturers. Later models in the Organiser II range offered other hardware improvements, with 4-line displays, and also models were introduced with 32, 64 and 96 KiB RAM.
The Organiser II competed with the Filofax and can be considered the first usable Electronic organizer, or Personal digital assistant (PDA) in that it combined an electronic diary and searchable address database in a small, portable device.
Production of consumer hand-held devices by Psion has now ceased; the company, after corporate changes, now concentrates on hardware and software for industrial and commercial data-collection applications.
On an episode of The Gadget Show (first aired on 30 March 2009), the Psion was pitted against the BlackBerry for a place on the show’s Hall of Fame. Whilst the Psion was highly praised as a device that pioneered portable computing, the accolade was ultimately given (by host Jon Bentley) to the BlackBerry.
Psion Series 3 and Series 5
The Psion Series 3 range of personal digital assistants were made by Psion PLC. The four main variants are the Psion Series 3 (1991), the Psion Series 3a (1993), the Psion Series 3c (1996), and the Psion Series 3mx (1998), all sized 165 × 85 × 22 mm. In addition, a Psion Series 3a variant with factory installed software for the Russian language was called a Psion Series 3aR, and Acorn Computers sold a rebadged version of the Psion Series 3 and 3a marketed as the Acorn Pocket Book and Acorn Pocket Book II.
The Psion Series 3 was the first truly useful Personal Digital Assistant or PDA. Its purpose was to replace the old-fashioned paper agenda and Rolodex, but it could do much more. Besides the agenda with multiple views, it featured a database, a word processor, a spreadsheet with charts, world times and more. With an optional modem, it could connect to the Internet. It could be programmed in OPL (Organiser Programming Language), with easy access to menu and graphical functions. The Series 3 had a 240×80 pixel screen of 97×39 mm. The backup battery for the Series 3 is a CR1620.
The Psion Series 3 range was regarded in 2009 by writer Charles Stross as an unsurpassed PDA because of its long battery life (20 to 35 hours), its stable and versatile software, and its durable hardware. Others describe over twenty years of daily use with models such as the Psion 3mx. About 1.5 million Psion 3s were made.
The Psion Series 3 models were a major advance on the Psion Organiser. They had an original way of managing files: the available program icons are shown in a horizontal line and the associated files drop down beneath them. Manufacture of Psion 3s was discontinued in 1998 shortly after the launch of the Psion Series 5 (a Psion Series 4 does not exist, due to Psion’s concern of tetraphobia in their Asian markets) and the Psion Siena. Psion’s industrial hardware division continue to produce handhelds running the same 16-bit operating system, some 17 years after its introduction on the Psion MC range of laptops and 5 years after Psion Computer’s final 32-bit EPOC PDA was released.
All the Series 3 variants were powered by two AA battery cells which are easily obtainable, rather than having a specially shaped proprietary battery which might be difficult to replace. They all have an internal backup battery in the form of an easily changed small button cell, which enables the main AA batteries to be changed without losing any of the data files. In addition they all have a DC input socket for optional external power-supply via a mains transformer.
The Series 3’s innovative clamshell design did have some problems: breakages of any of the four hinges; loss of function in the button bar between the two-halves of the clam; and deterioration of the cable linking the keyboard half to the screen, leading to a serious display problem with the appearance of vertical lines.
Psion Series 3s have room for two flash-memory cards, which enabled backup of data. Psion, Acorn and third party software was available loaded onto such memory cards which were available as separate packs.
The Series 3 featured a tone dialing feature using a combination of its built-in loudspeaker and dedicated software for generating tones suitable for telephone systems. It could be used to dial a telephone number by holding the device to the mouthpiece of a tone dialing telephone. The tone dialing feature was integrated into the Psion’s Agenda, Contacts and Data applications.
One unique feature of the Psion Series 3 software package was a built-in programming language, OPL (Organiser/Open Programming Language), which enabled users to create their own applications that ran and looked just as system programs. This, along with the rise in popularity of forums such as Compuserve and CIX, led to a significant shareware scene, (still) archived by Steve Litchfield and the 3-Lib shareware library, started in 1994. This Psion shareware scene was mirrored a few years later by the PalmPilot shareware scene and both were forerunners of the ‘app’-centric mobile world that we have today.
The Embeddable Linux Kernel Subset project has produced a small subset of Linux that runs on the Series 3a.
The Psion Revo, launched in November 1999, is a PDA from Psion. It is the successor to the Psion Series 3 and a light version of Psion 5mx. It is software-compatible with the 5mx and has the same processor but is more lightweight (200 g vs 354 g of 5mx) and substantially smaller (157 × 79 × 17 mm). In comparison with the Series 5/5mx, the Revo has a smaller screen (480 × 160 vs 640 × 240 of Series 5/5mx) and also lacks a flash-card slot and a backlight.
The Psion Revo comes in two main variants, Psion Revo and Psion Revo Plus, having 8 and 16 MB of RAM respectively. It is powered by a 36 MHz ARM 710T microprocessor. Among other things, the hardware is equipped with a short-distance IrDA wireless infrared communication system and a touchscreen. Like its bigger counterpart Series 5mx, it comes with a small suite of office and communications programs built into the ROM chips. Other programs are user-installable by using a “dock” to send Revo programs from a PC.
SONICblue produced a rebadged version of the Psion Revo Plus called the Diamond Mako, which they distributed in the United States and in Canada.
Along with Enfour, Psion produced two versions of the Revo for the Chinese market called the 618C (Traditional Chinese) and 618S (Simplified Chinese).
The main power is provided by two AAA batteries and the backup power by one cell-style CR1620 battery. The batteries are held in a compartment below a detachable casing in the top of the device. It does not have a socket for an external power source.
The Siena was of the same generation as the Psion 3 series but it has a smaller size screen (240×160 pixels) and a separate numeric pad next to the screen. The Siena uses the same 16bit NEC V30 processor as its predecessor the Series 3a. Although the Siena shares binary compatibility with the Series 3 many programs had to be modified due to the lower memory availability and smaller screen sizes.
Unlike the Series 3, the Siena does not have a bay for removable solid state disk drives; however, an external drive device is available which connects via an RS-232 serial port. The serial port also provides PC connectivity if used with the separately available PsiWin software and dial up access via the Travel modem accessory. Additional connectivity was available via the included infrared port, alongside the serial port.
Psion Series 5
The Psion Series 5 was a Personal digital assistant PDA from Psion. It came in two main variants, the Series 5 (launched in 1997) and the Series 5mx (1999), the latter having a faster processor, clearer screen, and updated software. There was also a rare Series 5mx Pro, which differed only in having the operating system loaded into RAM and hence upgradeable. Ericsson marketed a rebadged version of the Series 5mx called the MC218.
The Psion Series 5 was a major upgrade from the Psion Series 3. A Psion Series 4 does not exist, due to Psion’s concern of tetraphobia in their Asian markets. The external appearance of the Psion Series 5 and the Psion Series 5mx are broadly similar, but their mainboards and other internal components were different and not interchangeable. The screens are not interchangeable because of different screen cables.
The Series 5 was the first to feature a unique sliding-clamshell design, whereby the keyboard slides forward as the device opens to counterbalance the display, and brace it such that touchscreen actuation does not topple the device, a feature mentioned in the granted European patent EP 0766166B1. This novel design approach was the work of Martin Riddiford, an industrial designer for Therefore Design. A simplified version of this design was also used in the Psion Revo.
The moving parts and hinges can wear out or break. The most serious common problem arose because of a design fault in the screen cable where tooling holes caused unnecessary stressing due to additional bending of the cable at this point each time the Psion Series 5 was opened or closed and eventually leading to failure of the cable, which caused a serious display malfunction and the appearance of horizontal lines on the screen. The screen cable to the Psion Series 5 was more durable than the screen cable of the Psion Series 5mx. There was an after-market cable available for the 5mx which aimed to eliminate this problem.
At its heart was the 32-bit ARM710-based CL-PS7110 processor running at 18 MHz (Series 5) or 36 MHz (5mx), with 4, 8 or 16 MB of RAM. It was powered by two AA batteries, typically giving 10–20 hours of use. The display is a touch-sensitive, backlit half-VGA (640 × 240 pixel) LCD with 16 greyscales. The keyboard, which has a key-pitch of 12.5 mm, is generally considered to be amongst the best for its size, with large-travel keys and touch-type capability. Both RS-232 and infra-red serial connections were provided. A speaker and microphone were also provided, giving dictation as well as music playing ability. External storage was on CompactFlash.
The EPOC operating system, now known as Symbian OS, was built-in, along with applications for word processing, spreadsheets, databases, email, contact and diary management, and software development using Psion’s own OPL language. A Java Virtual Machine, the mobile browser STNC HitchHiker and synchronization software for Windows was bundled with the 5mx as optional installations and, later on, the ‘Executive Edition’ of the 5mx was bundled with various hardware and software extras including version 3.62 of the Opera web browser and a mains adapter. A wealth of third-party software was also available, from games and utilities to navigation, reference, communications, and productivity applications, and standard programming tools like Perl and Python.
An open source project OpenPsion, formerly PsiLinux,supports Linux on the Psion 5mx and other Psion PDAs.
Psion’s experience designing for this form factor and attention to detail made these machines a favourite with power users, many of whom stuck with them, despite their age and the appearance of Symbian OS-powered mobile phones and other PDAs with more impressive specifications.
In 2017 a team of original Psion engineers created a startup, Planet Computers, to make an Android device in a similar form factor, the Gemini (PDA). The Cosmo Communicator is a development of this device, enhancements including an external touchscreen on the rear of the clamshell lid- primarily to facilitate use as a mobile phone without opening. It is due for launch in mid-2019.
(( I did not talk about the Psion Series 7 and Netbook as I see them more as a Netbook/Small Laptop than a PDA device in the generic sense of the word ))