In 1989 Psion expanded their range, previously based around variants of
an 8-bit handheld computer called the Organiser, into full size laptops.
The Organiser had proven to be very versatile within business, becoming
the standard tool of British Telecom, Marks & Spencer and many other
businesses, with barcode readers, interfaces for printers and
measurement devices, and robust construction with solid-state storage.
This reliance, and expertise, with solid-state storage led Psion to
develop a 16-bit laptop range with no 'soft' storage options. The 80C86
based devices introduced EPOC - still in development as an embedded OS
and used in PDAs and computers like the Nokia 9210, Series 5 and Series
7 - though now handled by Symbian.
Initially consisting of 3 similar systems, the MC range started with the
MC200 - a 256K system with a 640 x 200 screen taking up half the space
in the clamshell style top half. Unlike Psion's later PDAs, the MC had
very conservative styling with the exception of the large touch-pad
below the screen, and relied on good quality, especially for the
keyboard and screen. The MC400 expanded the screen to 640 x 400,
offering a good size display compared to contemporary machines - many of
which were pure DOS and didn't offer the GUI of the MC200 and 400.
The final version used the 3.84MHz 80C86 for the OS more commonly
associated with it - DOS 3.x. Psion's MC600, despite this apparently
retrograde step, was seen as the flagship offering 640K RAM and
additional keys in place of the touchpad on the EPOC based systems. The
relatively high price of the system ensured it had little success in the
fast moving PC compatible 'portable' market - however, the benefits
Psion's past products offered still applied, and British Gas were
amongst the companies adopting the MC600 for on-site work.
What did the MC range offer that marked them out from the existing
laptops on the market? Original plans were ambitious - Psion's other
research included compressed audio, and a planed CODEC (COder/DECorder)
combined with an existing audio in/out bus was intended to offer
dictaphone like capabilities. Interchangeable modules, mounted in the
rear of the machine, would offer different interfaces (including the
CODEC), and the successful (for Psion) SSD - Solid State Disk - was
catered for with 4 drives. The drives are compatible with the Series 3,
though little software exists for the MC. The lack of a backlight
combined with Psion's experience with portable electronics resulted in a
remarkable battery life - around 70 hours on AA cells, and 20 with the
rechargeable battery pack. The keyboard was excellent, high quality and
full-sized, and the built-in software included a basic Text editor, OPL
programming language, and terminal emulation. They were capable of basic
multi-tasking, too. Interestingly, Psion's MC-link package was one of
the most remarkable methods of connecting to your PC or Macintosh - you
had access to the host machine's Filesystem on the MC, in fact it was
easier to control transfers from the MC than the host!
What they didn't offer was any sense of security. Within 2 years, Psion
were direct selling them with a new Word Processor, branded as the
MC-Word. The MC200 was long gone, and the MC600 remained for corporate
sales only. Windows-based laptops contributed to the failure of the MC
range, though none offered the immediacy and battery life, or light
weight. A year later Psion would almost deny that the machines had
existed, the Series 3 leaving it's mark on the consumer market and
proving Psion's competence beyond any doubt...
The MC's architecture did survive, in the form of the professional HC -
Handheld Computer. This also spawned a ruggedised Series-3-alike, the
Workabout, which also saw the introduction of backlights on the Series 3
(the 3a) and future Psions. However, Psion didn't return to the
'notebook' market with any vigour; the Series 7/netBook being a sadly
limited product that, whilst remarkably competent and efficient, lost
the lead to Microsoft's Windows CE platform, especially with CE Pro
machines like the Hewlett-Packard 820. It's another sad loss, as Psion
move out of hardware production and another British company threatens to
fade from view - Psion Teklogix will continue to market products for
'commercial' use, but the Psion brand will disappear from consumer items
in a year.
Text & info from Richard Kilpatrick