Psion OPL: when we owned our devices

We talked about Psion last week, and we’re talking about Psion again this week. This time, Kian Ryan highlights a very important capability of Psion’s devices, a capability that’s entirely absent from today’s mobile devices: a built-in IDE and dedicated programming language so you can write code and build applications, including ones with a graphical user interface, right on the device.

All Psion devices could run OPL, either preinstalled on the device or via a DATAPAK memory card. It’s a BASIC-esque programming language, and while you could develop OPL programs on your PC in DOS, Psion devices also shipped with an IDE preinstalled so you could get just as much done on the device itself. Back then, this wasn’t particularly unique, but these days, mobile devices have become so locked-down and dumb that developing applications on-device is basically a non-starter.

Which can’t be said about my current mobile. My mobile is a great device to consume content on, but it has no built in tools to extend its functionality. If I want to build an application for it, I have to use another computer to download a build environment, build the application, sign it, and then transfer the packaged app to my phone. On the Psion, all the tools are right there, on my home screen. It does feel like we’re missing an opportunity here.

↫ Kian Ryan

They’re entirely right, of course. Our current mobile devices are faster and technically more capable than ever, but extending the functionality of your smartphone using the smartphone itself by writing and compiling code on it is far more cumbersome than it was in the past. Even my Psion Organiser II LZ64, from 1986, has OPL on it, and if I took the time to relearn the basic BASIC I once knew, I could probably still program something useful on it today, almost 40 years later, without being gatekept by anyone, and without needing any other device.

That’s something quite magical that we’ve lost, and that’s sad.

2 Comments

  1. 2024-07-06 6:31 am
  2. 2024-07-09 6:01 pm

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