4. The Protea runway
By around 1994, Psion had good reason to feel optimistic. Since its formation in 1980, the company had weathered two major crises, and had come out stronger each time:
- It had an initial round of heady success from the games software it produced in the early 1980s for pioneering home computers such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the Acorn BBC Micro
- It then weathered an awkward period in 1984, including making staff redundant, in the wake of market failures of two would-be revolutionary products from partner companies – the Sinclair QL and the ICL “One Per Desk” (OPD)
- By 1986, Psion had re-invented itself as the manufacturer of the Psion Organiser II, and had another growing success on its hand
- Another difficult period arose in the long transition from the Organiser II architecture to the Sibo architecture, with another painful round of redundancies in 1991, alongside fears for the long-term well-being of the company
- However, the Series 3 classic (late 1991) confirmed that there was real potential in the Sibo platform, and the Series 3a (1993) resonated even more fully with the market.
In short, the company had, twice, taken longer than expected to make a transition to a new product category, but had, twice, eventually made it to the other side of the “chasm”.
In retrospective recognition for these waves of success, Psion received the honour of two Queen’s Awards for Export and Technological Achievement:
- In 1990, Psion was recognised “for its international revenues from its Organiser II hand-held computer range for the three year period 1986 to 1989”. The citation went on, “Psion exports its products to over 40 countries and overseas customers include Westpac Banking Corp, Sony, Volvo and Hasselblad”
- In 1995, Psion received the award again, this time in recognition of the technical acumen of the Series 3a.
On each occasion, Psion directors selected a small number of middle managers from the company to attend the awards recognition ceremony at Buckingham Palace. In 1995, I was one of the three to be favoured. When the time came for the three of us to formally be introduced to Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, I was impressed by the sparkle in Prince Philip’s eye: “Psion … we’ve had you here before, haven’t we?” Indeed, Psion had become something of a fixture in British public life.
As evidenced by the awards for export, Psion’s success extended beyond the shores of the UK. Most countries in Europe had variants of Psion’s devices created for them – with alternative keyboards, and with the user interfaces being translated into local languages. The companies making up Psion’s network of international distributors became increasingly successful in their own right.
On top of the vibrant sales of the Series 3a, there were plenty of other factors behind Psion’s self-confidence.
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