Tech Life: 8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be an Early Adopter

by Kentin Waits on 13 December 2011 6 comments
Photo: Thom Cochrane

Early adopters of new technology are, God love ‘em, those folks who are the first to embrace manufacturer innovations in the marketplace. In my day, they were first family on block to get a microwave or a VCR. Today, they’re the first to have an LCD TV or smartphone. These are the consumers that manufacturers dream of and often cater to. They are plugged into tech trends and they don’t mind standing in line or camping out all night to indulge their new-gadget habit. They respond to buzz, and they create buzz. They are product evangelizers and brand ambassadors who reset the standards of everyday technology and they’re responsible, in part, for the embarrassment you feel as you tuck that old flip phone back in your pocket.

But early adoption isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I think there’s a very real downside to the rush and blush of new technology. So take some comfort in your four-year-old flip phone and that hulking, boxy, analog TV. Here are eight reasons why you shouldn’t be an early adopter. (See also: Frugal Advice for the Gadget Addicted)

1. Higher Prices

New technology means higher retail costs. Efforts to quickly recoup R&D expenses and the factors of supply and demand all skew the price of new devices in favor of the manufacturer. It can take years for market forces to normalize and reflect the real value of an item.

2. Rapid Outdating

A first generation product implies a third and fourth generation. Typically, the greatest technological advancements are reflected in second generation releases. At that point, consumers have had a chance to test the earlier product in the harsh laboratory of everyday life. Speed, energy efficiency, memory, and software choices all tend to improve later on.

3. Kinks and Bugs

Similarly, any kinks and bugs are most glaringly apparent upon a product’s initial release (ala the early antenna issue and short battery life of Apple’s iPhone). Consumers complain and manufacturers correct a product’s shortcomings in later releases.

4. Poor Resale Value

Since the greatest improvements usually happen between a product’s first and second generation, first-gen versions have lower resale value. Just try unloading that early iPod, if you’re not convinced.

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5. Low Competition

With their patents firmly in place and other manufacturers scrambling to figure out how to match the wizardry, first generation products have very little competition. Low competition means little choice, and little choice means higher prices for consumers.

6. Buyers Are Uncompensated Testers

Early adopters of new technology become de facto product testers, pointing out bugs and product issues that may or may not be addressed with a first generation patch. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to work for free — I’ll gladly let someone else use his piggy bank to be a guinea pig.

7. Lower Service Levels

Newly launched products often suffer from minimal service levels since manufacturers can’t always accurately predict popularity or performance. Later versions usually have a more established (and therefore more robust) support infrastructure.

8. Undetermined Usability

Let’s face it — novelty is part of our attraction to new products. The only thing better than getting something new is getting something that’s new to the world. But what do we do when the novelty wears off? How can we be sure the new product will become an indispensable part of our lives, or merely a brief rung on the evolutionary ladder of bigger, better, faster, and more mobile?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing early adopters or questioning their place in consumer culture. They’re an essential category of willing buyers that lets the rest of us enjoy less expensive and more refined products. I salute the buyers of those early $2,500 LCD TVs and $600 iPhones. You’ve taken the hit that we more cost-conscious consumers just refused to take. We thank you; our wallets thank you.

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Guest's picture
Ben_Voigt

Your point 8. is only true for marketing driven features instead of need driven ones.

For example I agree that "fits in a manila folder" was a novelty feature with undetermined usabilty (and still is, when we look at Ultrabooks). At some point you might want some less coolness, and trade it for more usability like more ports, more battery life, or a lower price.

But you might need exactly that feature.

Same is true for whole product ideas. If my product meets a real need, it will have a determined usability, even though it might be a complete novelty to the world.
This won't be true for products without a need to fill. Most often you recognize these items when they are not marketed by stating what their purpose is, but instead how they look or feel. Something like "it's magic", or the first feature to be shown is "the circular etching in the aluminium casing" - both on electronics!

At the moment given what products are released, and what are axed, I've got the feeling that the design principle of "form follows function" has been replaced by "function follows style".

Guest's picture

Thanks for making this so clear. I know the temptation can be so strong to get the newest thing that you might not think of these things, but when they are all in a list like this, that helps! Remember the first iPhone? I am so glad Apple issued a rebate for the people who forked over all that cash, that doesn't happen everyday when you buy brand spanking new technology!

Don't Quit Your Day Job's picture

That's the deal with hardware - it's a deflationary industry. If you can hold out a little longer, whatever is in the market at the time will be cheaper and a whole set of new products will arrive at the old price points. Win-win!

Guest's picture

This is so depressing. As a start-up that is relying on early adopters to help us make sure our product is the best it can be, you're article was a stab in the heart!

Now I can't deny that any of the above are true bugs and kinks for one, are a huge part of the process, that our new customers help us to vett. These early adopters are INVALUABLE to us and as a community manager who strives to guide these relationships and reward them for the pain you mentioned above I'd like to point out what I feel is missing. What you didn't mentioned is how companies will often go above and beyond to award early adopters with brand new versions of the same product (their feedback on changes between versions separates the Kindles from the Nooks) Furthermore, the biggest problem with discouraging people from being early adopters is that it fails puts in jeopardy the precious freedom we have as Americans: to build something new, release it into the market and the ability the market (early adopters) have to give precious and valuable feedback into the process.

Without this somewhat painful reality we wouldn't have Apple, we wouldn't have Facebook and we wouldn't have Google.

Kentin Waits's picture

Alysa, I completely agree. I do think that early adopters occupy an essential spot in the marketplace. But purely from a frugality perspective, early adoption (at times) may be inconsistent with larger personal finance goals. No disrespect meant to the tech-eager out there! :)

Guest's picture
Jenessa

All very true, Alysa. But this website is generally based on frugality. There's no real frugal points in being an early adopter. I think the author was very clear on thanking early adopters, not stabbing anyone in the heart. I know I read these articles for tips on saving money, not tips on how to give companies feedback.