Nokia has announced its intention to try and nearly double its shareholding in Symbian by buying Psion shares in the venture, taking them to a 63.3% holding. Symbian, created arguably the most successful rich media Operating System (OS) which is primarily used on mobile phones and portable devices. Almost 2.7m units were shipped with their OS in the first six months of 2003 and it is currently owned by seven partners; Ericsson, Panasonic, Nokia, Psion, Samsung, Siemens and Sony Ericsson.
Nokia propose to pay Psion in two ways; £93.5 million (~$173.8m, ~€137.1m) as a fixed payment, plus £0.84 (~$1.56, ~€1.23) for every Symbian OS equipped phone Nokia sells during 2004 and 2005. Psion are currently estimating the deal will be worth around £135.7m (~$252.1m, ~€198.4m).
This is not the first time there has been a significant shift in the Symbian ownership. Back in August 2003, co-incidentally Symbian’s fifth anniversary, Motorola announced it would exit Symbian, selling its 19% holding. The two partners picking it the holding were Psion who increased its holding from 25.3% to 31.1% and Nokia bought the rest of the Motorola shares, increasing its holding from 19% to 32.2%. Psion paid Motorola £17m (~$31.5m, ~€24.8m) cash, valuing Symbian at that time at £300m (~$557.4m, ~€438.4m). The current Nokia/Psion deal values Symbian at £430m (~$798.9m, ~€628.4m).
At that time David Potter, Chairman of Psion gave hints at their possible exit from Symbian, “Psion will continue to play its role in driving Symbian towards the successful exploitation of its market. At the same time, realising the value of out investment in Symbian for the optimal benefit of Psion shareholders is a key strategic goal”
This leaves two questions hanging in the air. What will happen to Symbian’s other minority shareholders now Nokia is far and away the largest shareholder? Where are Psion going now?
The other owners, lead by Ericsson, the next largest owner (17.5%), may feel shouldered out of Symbian or indeed be uneasy providing income to their largest competitor. Currently the only other option they would have is to go the Microsoft route with their less than perfect offering.
A few years ago Psion got out of the consumer hardware business and they also sold Psion Software to Visto in February for an undisclosed amount. They are now placing their bets on wireless applications in the enterprise. Initially growing Teklogix, which manufactures rugged, wireless devices to help companies streamline their logistics. They also plan to move into providing support to mobile workers in the field, such as medical staff who are visiting patients in their home.
Teklogix is an area they feel they have a strong footing in this business already, making it is a defendable area with potential for great expansion. The CEO, Alistair Crawford says they plan to focus on RFID and Voice. The benefits of RFID in the warehousing business are well known. Psion also feel there is benefits in using voice input there, as the operators quite often need to have both hands free, or their not able to use their hands, for example in a refrigerator unit.
Psion is a company that has changed considerably over its 25 years from its start writing software, in particular Chess for Sinclair computers, through single handedly pioneered the handheld computer market back in the 1980’s., to defending themselves against the onslaught from Microsoft. We’ll watch this space with interest.