The Osborne Effect Is A Myth?

from the clarification-please... dept

Robert Cringely’s latest column spends the first half clearing up the myth of the Osborne Effect. Lots of people (including us) were discussing the Osborne Effect, following Steve Jobs’ announcement about switching to Intel processors in a year. However, according to Cringely, it wasn’t the pre-announcement that killed Osborne. Instead, it was the fact that the cheaper Kaypro system had a much bigger screen than any Osborne machine — and people valued that bigger screen much more than the various other enhancements found in the Osborne machine. Sounds quite similar to the real reason that VHS beat the betamax. While the common story is that the VHS was an inferior technology that still happened to win out, it was another case where marketers failed to understand what people found really valuable about what they were selling. The VHS could record more. And that feature, like the larger screen on the Kaypro, apparently, was what helped it win the competition.

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Comments on “The Osborne Effect Is A Myth?”

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Pete Austin says:


“In 1982, the Osborne Computer Company announced a successor … Unfortunately, potential customers stopped buying the Osborne 1, waiting for the Executive and the Vixen, which wasn’t even ready to ship yet. Sales plummetted and Osborne quickly ran out of money and filed for bankruptcy in September of 1983.”

“sales dropped, from about 10,000 a month for the original model, to essentially zero for the new model. The reason for the drop was that the Osborne Executive was not competitive with the Kaypro”

“In 1980, British company Sinclair released their ZX80 computer for $199.95. One year later, they released the new and improved ZX81. Compared to the ZX80, the ZX81 was much cheaper, at only $99.95, the first computer for under $100.”

I was running a computer company at this time and:
1) The “Osborne effect” is not something invented with hindsight, but was discussed a lot at the time.
2) Although I saw (and had a brief play with) an Osborne, I never heard of the Keypro until today.
3) A lot of computers were being invented around then (timeline), including from Sinclair, and prices were falling rapidly.

I think Osborne was killed by a marketing mistake (the Osborne effect) and because it let its prices get out-of-line with the market in general. (They are not strictly comparable, but an Osborne cost 20 times as much as a Sinclair in 1882/3). Kaypro was unimportant. Also the Osborne remains the ugliest computer that I have ever seen.

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