BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

Summary: Research in Motion just announced their new OS 7-based BlackBerry 9900 smartphone, available in June. One minor problem: None of the current or recent generation BlackBerry phones will get the OS upgrade.

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Research in Motion just announced their new OS 7-based BlackBerry 9900 smartphone, available in June. One minor problem: None of the current or recent generation BlackBerry phones will get the OS upgrade.

The year was 1982. British computer pioneer Dr. Adam Osborne, a man who has been universally credited with creating the portable computer industry announces the "Executive" OCC-2, the the successor to his current shipping product, the CP/M-based Osborne 1. In fact, over the next year, he also publicly discusses a second, smaller model, the "Vixen", one which would follow on after that.

Not many people will remember Adam Osborne and the significant contributions he made to help establish the personal computer industry. Many people reading this blog weren't even born when the Osborne 1, let alone the Vixen was shipped.

However, there is one particular event in computer history in which Mr. Osborne's name will forever be associated with: The Osborne Effect.

What happened to the Osborne Computer Company after the announcements of the "Executive" and the "Vixen" is now classic business school stuff. Due to the pre-announcement of the newer, better products while the current inventory in the reseller channel was still full, buyers were no longer interested in current products.

Despite the fact that the company had a number of advantages, one of those being that it bundled application and OS software with its computers, Osborne was also facing heavy competition from companies like Kaypro, Apple and IBM, so the timing couldn't possibly have been worse.

By November of 1983, the company went bankrupt, and Osborne Computer Corporation was no more.

Flash forward to May 2nd, 2011, some 30 years later. Research in Motion, the company which could easily be credited with establishing the modern smartphone industry, announces the BlackBerry Bold 9900 series, which will feature OS 7, the new software discussed by the company's chief executive, Jim Balsillie on an earnings call, only a few days earlier.

Indeed, according to Balsillie, the company has shortened its revenue outlook for Q2 of 2011 because the products are in a state of heavy transition. Additionally, in order to distinguish itself from the most recent software upgrade, OS 6, which was launched on the BlackBerry Torch in the summer of 2010, the incremental "OS 6.1" is now to be referred to as "OS 7".

To make matters even more complicated, this forthcoming OS 7 is not to be confused with QNX, the real-time OS shipping on their PlayBook tablet and will be the future smartphone OS that will be deployed on their handsets in 2012. Because Balsillie's co-Chief Executive, Mike Lazaridis said so.

Oh but it gets better.

You see, even though OS 6.1... ahem, OS 7 is an incremental improvement over OS 6, the software cannot be over-the-air updated on currently shipping BlackBerry handsets at any of the wireless carriers. OS 7, apparently, has no support for BlackBerry legacy hardware at all.

It's my understanding that a lot of the improvements in OS 7 are tied to the graphics subsystem and the GPU hardware on the new Bold 9900 handsets. It's understandable that those features won't work on older or even currently shipping product.

But now AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon and every other carrier on this planet now has a ton of BlackBerry product sitting in warehouses that has been instantly declared as totally outdated. And as if that isn't bad enough, everyone also knows that OS 7 isn't long for this world either, since the way-cool QNX-based phones with the PlayBook's super-smooth multitasking UI will be out next year.

All of this happening while the company is facing intense competition from sophisticated handsets running Google's Android, Apple's iOS, not to mention Windows Phone 7 and HP's WebOS.

Does this story sound familiar?

I think Dr. Osborne needs to retire as the baton holder for bonehead product pre-announcement. He's done enough.

The "Lazaridis Lapse" or the "Balsillie Blunder" sounds so much more 21st-century.

Has Research in Motion Osborned themselves with OS 7 and the BlackBerry 9900? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobile OS, Hardware, Mobility, BlackBerry, Smartphones

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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44 comments
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  • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

    Yea, but that's not any different than knowing that Apple will announce its iPhone 5 come late june. We don't see a drop off (or large drop off) of customers waiting for the latest and greatest.

    It's may and the phone ships in June, not sure if the Osborne effect in play
    salman_paracha
    • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

      @salman_paracha Yeah but there is one CRITICAL difference here. Apple has a very long support cycle. iPad 1 and iPad 2 are both going to get "OS 5" and so will iPhone 4.

      As to the Osborne Effect, we'll see if it's in play or not. They've basically said OS 7 won't be available on current handsets, and QNX is replacing OS 7. Who the hell is going to want to buy a BlackBerry and commit themselves to a 2-year contract NOW?
      jperlow
      • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

        @jperlow

        I've also read a couple of reports that iOS 5 is currently being tested on the 3GS.

        Interesting article and worthwhile insights.
        Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

        @jperlow As long as QNX will be an over -the-air upgrade on the BB9900... I don't see the issue. The current BB hardware is not upgradable due to lack of touch screens, powerful processors and separate GPUs... however it looks like they have the hardware ready in advance of the software for once...so maybe you get an improved OS7 for a year and then the upgrade to QNX for year 2.

        Although, I am a Sprint Premier customer, and even with the changes I am still one who will get an every 12 month upgrade. Therefore, bring it on. Just put these things on all carriers. Selling the Torch to only ATT or the Storm to only Verizon is the reason they don't sell as well as the curve and bold. They need to release on all carriers all at once.
        condelirios
      • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

        @condelirios [b]As long as QNX will be an over -the-air upgrade on the BB9900[/b]

        I wouldn't believe anything Lazaridis or Balsillie says regarding OS 7 to QNX upgrades at this juncture. I fully expect them to screw every one of their customers with OS 7 handsets just as they did with the Torch and other BlackBerry OS 6 and OS 5 smartphones.
        jperlow
    • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

      @salman_paracha Actually, you do. IPhone sales always drop in the first and second quarters, because everyone knows the new iPhone comes out in June (ok, they MAY delay it this year, but that has been the pattern). Apple got a boost this year by waiting well into 1Q2011 for the Verizon iPhone, but even that hasn't been on fire, sales wise. And that's even without any specs for iPhone 5, or any reason to believe there will be any compatibility problems with the iPhone 4 and new versions of iOS during its useful life.
      Hazydave
  • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

    Who cares? Cellphones have an extremely short half-life, and everyone expects to toss their 2 year old phones into the recycling bin anyway. I don't know anybody who "upgrades their O/S". They just get tossed into the dumpster. Not even close to an "Osborne effect"!
    JJJoseph
    • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

      @JJJoseph

      "Cellphones have an extremely short half-life, and everyone expects to toss their 2 year old phones into the recycling bin anyway."

      Many older handsets are sold on eBay and the like or passed-on to other members in the family. They retain their useful life for far in excess of the 2 years of their contract life.
      Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • People getting hand-me-down phones...

        are not going to be happy with their blackberry OS? This is terrible news to ... oh wait... they aren't buying anything from RIM. Nevermind.
        mrefuman
    • Might be true for YOU,

      @JJJoseph
      but lots of people upgrade their phone software. Almost every iPhone owner does. And, this upgrading allows people to keep their "obsolete" phones longer. It also allows old phones to be given as hand-me-downs.
      davebarnes
    • Cellphones had a short half-life because of carrier

      chokeholds on the product line, selling them as loss leaders to get you in a contract. The iPhone broke that chokehold, and the short half-life. AT&T still sells the 3GS, a phone that is two years old.
      fr_gough
  • History repeat itself!

    Yes, Always!

    I couldn't find the logic behind OS 6.1 (aka OS 7.0) release. RIM should concentrate more on QNX rather than reengineering a legacy OS. Market will ignore OS 7. No apps will be targeted for OS 7 or 9900.

    Btw, where is Java API for QNX and PB? Don't point me to Android, please!
    xTalk
  • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

    This analysis is funny....for phone manufacturers like Nokia who didn't upgrade and eventually decided to shake hands with MS have been written off. And Companies like RIM who are working hard to give better experiences to their customers with each passing year are being Osborned!! So let me ask this.
    Has Nokia stopped selling E71 or E72 or has iphone stopped selling their 3G phones or for that matter is Samsung still not promoting Wave series inspite of BADA platform not having seen much success..

    Look at the brighter side, every year you get a new technology to put your hands on. I am certainly not complaining and willing to trade off my Bold 9700 with the newly launched series.

    Just an avid bb user :o)
    contactmannoj
    • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

      @contactmannoj I think you miss the meaning of "the Osbourne Effect". Osbourne didn't stop selling the Osborne-1; customers believed in the better models, and decided to wait. Or buy a Kaypro.

      Nokia is still selling their SymbianOS phones, Linux phones too. But they have told the market that these are dead-end products, and come 2012 its Windows phone all the way down. Sure, there may be some users who grab these as their last chance. But let's wait and see Nokia's fortune this year. They have been losing about 10% of the smarphone market per year.. they might well lose the rest in a quarter or two. And will developers keep supporting SymbianOS, knowing its demise is certain.

      RIM has much the same problems, only, you can at least get a Playbook today and see or develop for their intended future. And they have the advantage of lock in among some businesss user. RIM sold more smartphones than Apple last year, but these Ready! Fire! Aim! Product announcements are not the way you keep that market.
      Hazydave
  • Same for Nokia!

    Except for that Nokia announced WP7 which is a non-seller on all other brands already, while Symbian had stable sales figures.
    At least, future blackberry phones are compatible with the current models, while there Nokia WP7 phones cannot use the Ovi-store nor any previously bought software.
    Nokia is really "Osborning" their company, not Rim!!
    intenet
    • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

      @intenet

      The difference between Nokia and RIM is the fact that RIM doesn't have any foothold in the value to dirt cheap segment of the market where Nokia still holds a substantial share. What they have been suffering is in the premium segment where they are losing customers to Apple, Android etc.

      They also had a long-long time to fix Symbian, which none in the company before Elop seemed to be able to do. N8 still is a pain to use, Symbian 3 still looks like a phone with touch interface slapped on it. They needed a new OS so bad.
      madfry
  • ZDNet has an answer to your question, Jason.

    Re: "...Who the hell is going to want to buy a BlackBerry and commit themselves to a 2-year contract NOW?"

    Well, Matthew Miller's April 22nd Blog: "BlackBerry PlayBook; a good reason to buy a BlackBerry smartphone", seems to give an answer to that question.

    I really wish the PlayBook was a "stand alone" tablet and not tethered to a BlackBerry smartphone. (For RIM's sake)

    It seems to me that any mention of the PlayBook's battery duration between charges should include the time between battery charges for it's companion BlackBerry smartphone since both must be turned on at the same time to utilize the full benefits of the PlayBook tablet.

    For better or for worse, those two products are joined at the hip. And, your article almost seems to imply the rational to forgo a PlayBook purchase until the companion QNX enabled BlackBerry smartphone begins shipping. At least, if I wanted to lock myself into the BlackBerry ecosystem, that's the path I would choose.

    So, if that rational is followed by others, the "Balsillie Blunder" effects the sales of future PlayBook units as well.
    kenosha77a
    • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

      @kenosha7777
      Nothing says that the BB 9900 won't be able to tether to the PlayBook. In that case new sales of older devices are still in jeopardy.
      MG537-23482538203179240121698430309828
    • RE: BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

      @kenosha7777: The tethered Playbook is much easier for the IT dept to deal with. Only one account and one connection. It's easier for the user, too, for the same reason. RIM is being really intelligent about this.
      JJJoseph
  • RIM's Vista?

    The way they've abandoned OS 6 users, makes it feel like RIM's "Vista Moment"...
    sagec