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Outlook: Psion doubts

THE FAST LANE of the information superhighway is an uncomfortable place, as David Potter of Psion is finding out. Whereas palmtop computers were once just glorified electronic organisers, the advent of new mobile phone technology capable of carrying data at high speeds means they are about to change out of all recognition.

Eventually they might even take over from the personal computer as the main way in which people access the Internet, send and receive e-mail, and buy goods online. These devices will take all kinds of forms, from mini-laptop computers to intelligent wrist watches. And they'll be in the shops from this Christmas.

David Potter, Psion's chairman, addressed these changes last summer when he injected EPOC - the operating system software developed by Psion - into a joint venture with the world's three largest mobile phone manufacturers. The question he faces now is what to do with the rest of the business.

Larger, more aggressive manufacturers are muscling in on his markets, and it is doubtful that Psion can remain in the vanguard of conventional palm computers for much longer. Mr Potter yesterday attempted to shift the emphasis by talking about solutions rather than just boxes.

The details are still vague, but over the next year Psion is aiming to form a series of alliances to offer e-mail and e-commerce solutions. It is also likely to concentrate on selling more handsets to businesses as part of a computing package.

All this makes sense. The question is whether Psion can move out of its traditional business while retaining a distinctive edge over larger rivals. Mr Potter has so far successfully managed to steer Psion through these rapidly changing markets. The youthful David Levin, who has just taken over from Mr Potter as chief executive, will have his work cut out producing a repeat performance.