Foxed by Vixen
Games and applications helped, but it was its portability that sold the Osborne 1. The machine had racked up sales of 11,000 units by the end of 1981.
If Osborne was the first company to develop a portable computer, it was also the first technology business - the first to lend its name to the phenomenon, at least - to accidentally commit suicide by announcing new products too soon.
Tell punters there's something much better just around the corner and they'll stop buying the current model, killing your company - a situation now called the Osborne Effect.
Or so the folklore goes. Osborne announced the follow-up to the Osborne 1, the Osborne Executive, in late 1982, but it didn't ship until May 1983. It had a bigger, 7in screen than its predecessor, but also an even bigger price: $2495. It was too much - the Executive did not sell well.
That didn't matter too much because the Osborne 1 was still selling well. Until Osborne announced the Vixen - aka the Osborne 4 - which steered potential buyers away from the Osborne. Demand plunged and even massive price cuts - the machine was pitched at just $999 in August 1983 - couldn't revive it.
Osborne Computer Company was declared bankrupt in September 1983. Osborne himself was ousted, but the firm lived protected from creditors by a court order. It finally showed off the Vixen in October 1984. It went on sale the following year, but by then World+Dog wanted IBM PC compatibles, and the Vixen wasn't. OCC closed down later that year. Osborne himself died in 2003. ®
Thanks to the many Osborne 1 and vintage computing fans who provided the ad scans.
"Portable as a suitcase full of bricks", people said at the time. The luggability wasn't an issue for my father and me (it never moved once from where we first installed it); what sold it for us was the software bundle, which was unique.
The tiny screen gave us pause. The salesman pointed out that text was the same size and legibility as newsprint: all the same, we splashed out on a whopping 9" green monitor. When that died, we never bothered replacing it. It was the easiest computer to maintain I've ever had: if I recall correctly, there were no software updates in nearly ten years use!
Eventually, of course, clients started asking for Windows-compatible files: we decided with some regret to retire the Osborne and buy an IBM PS/1, as I recall, running Windows 3.1.
(And that, gentle readers, was where our troubles began...)
I'm enjoying picturing an alternate past
where the Starbucks coffee-house blight happened ten years earlier and every table was occupied by someone sporting an Osborne
Oh Tony, you should have done more research on The Osborne Effect. There is a rather unique article in the archives of El Reg that debunks the so-called Osborne Effect. Incidentally, that article quotes ME extensively, I ran a major Osborne repair site.