BlackBerry OS 7: How to Osborne your smartphone sales

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.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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.

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