A portable computer is generally referred to as a laptop. But would you still call it one when the device weighs nearly 12 Kilograms? You wouldn’t today, of course, but when it first came out in 1981, the Osborne 1 was a technological marvel and sold like hot cakes. We are listing down some of the most interesting facts about this first truly portable PC and its inventor, Adam Osborne.
Osborne 1 was priced at 1800 US dollars
The price was, as a matter of fact; around half of what competing brands were asking for at that time. Today, for that kind of money, one can easily buy top of the line, premium looking laptops that could last a better part of a decade.
Bundled in software worth 2000 US dollars
This was one of the two main USPs of the Osborne 1, the other in the next point. Bundled in the computer was the CP/M operating system, the Microsoft MBASIC programming language, the WordStar word processing package, the SuperCalc spreadsheet program and the Digital Research CBASIC programming language. Talk about freebies!
Osborne 1: All in one hardware package
Floppy drives, keyboards, built in screens, modem ports: everything that made computing possible and effective could all be found on the Osborne 1 in one neat package, although quite a heavy one at that. Notably, the 5 inch screen was supposed to help with office programs!
Osborne 1: Commercial success
Adam Osborne had anticipated a total of 10,000 Osborne 1 devices being sold in the lifetime of the product. Contrary to this, he was selling 10,000 units monthly! By the end of the year, a total of 125,000 Osborne 1s had been shipped and sold, making the company immensely profitable.
Altercation with Steve Jobs
When you think of computers, you think of Steve Jobs: the man was responsible for taking the industry forward for every year of the 80s. But Adam was a proud man already. So at a computer fair in San Francisco in 1981, Adam Osborne told Apple employees to “go and tell Steve Jobs that the Osborne 1 is going to outsell the Apple II and Macintosh combined!”. The message was duly delivered to Steve, who rang Osborne, but had to make do with his secretary. Upon being asked to a leave a message, Jobs said: “Here’s my message. Tell Adam he’s an A***hole.”
The Osborne Effect:
The Osborne effect is a term referring to the unintended consequences of a company announcing a future product, unaware of the risks involved or when the timing is misjudged, which ends up having a negative impact on the sales of thecurrent product.
So where did this come from, especially after the groundbreaking success of the Osborne 1? Well, in 1982, just a year into the announcement of the Osborne 1, Adam started teasing and boasting of a much powerful update that would sweep the floor even with the then best selling Osborne 1. The public, believing in his promises, stopped buying the Osborne 1, and started the wait for the next generation. Dealers cancelled orders, shipments were sent back and stocks started piling up at warehouses. On top of this, the company couldn’t secure the investment to start work on the said update, and consequently went into bankruptcy by the end of the year of Osborne’s announcement.
An announcement that led a company from record profits to year end bankruptcy. Now that’s something!
Failure to recover:
Even though the company pulled itself out of bankruptcy, the broken promises gave it a bad reputation in the market. Competition was stiff, with Compaq doing everything Osborne did, but better and for cheaper. The promised devices were eventually launched, but they failed to make a mark in the ever so competitive market. Eventually, the company was shut down, and to this day is known for its debut product, the Osborne 1, a product that ushered in the age of portable computers.
Adam Osborne, the man behind the company
Adam Osborne was born in Thailand, to British parents and raised in Tamil Nadu, India, the country that had been home to him for the most part of his life. After the failure of Osborne in the 80s, he returned there and worked on software until his death in 2003