Should We Say Farewell to the “Early Adopter?”
In the tech industry the “early adopters” have usually been viewed as bleeding edge technophiles, who just happen to have the discretionary income and/or drive/passion to purchase products at or near launch. In addition to those enamored by the technology there are others who enjoy having (and being seen with) the greatest and newest gadget (often from Apple). But recent events might give some of these “early adopters” pause when purchasing that new-fangled (or “next gen”) device – in fact one could argue consumers are being conditioned to avoid new product launches all together. While early adopters have always accepted declining prices as an inevitability and the potential for technologies/devices/services they purchase to one day become nonexistent (e.g. DivX from Circuit City – both of which are effectively defunct), the recent actions by several companies could change this dynamic. In other words the value early adopters glean from being among the first to buy a product might soon “fade away.” So what are these events/actions? The most recent is the HP TouchPad. I will admit I am one of the relative few who purchased a Palm Pre (from Sprint, not long after the phone’s launch) and who happens to still have the device - I’m telling you this because it plays an important role in this discussion. As a “loyal” WebOS consumer I was offered a $50 discount on the 32GB HP TouchPad just prior to the official launch (July 1, 2011). Step forward just over one month and much to the chagrin of early adopters HP offered a $100 discount on both TouchPad models (originally priced at $500 16GB and $600 32GB) over the past weekend and made the price $449.99 for the 16GB and $549.99 for the 32GB – note that Amazon.com still lists the TouchPads for 100 less than the original launch prices. So HP offered a mea culpa to their most ardent supporters and offered these consumers a $50 credit to the application marketplace – as a Palm Pre owner I’m willing to assume the $50 credit is not as valuable as some (those who have not had to deal with WebOS application inadequacies) might presume. WebOS/HP/Palm is but one example. Nintendo also reduced the price of their 3DS handheld game player in less than 6 months ($80 off the original $250) – not surprisingly this drew the ire of the early adopters as well, to which Nintendo offered an apology and 20 free downloadable games (10 NES and 10 Gameboy Advance games – yes these are old games). Oh, and labeled these Nintendo loyalists “Ambassadors.” Aside from bestowing a title on these early adopters HP followed a very similar tactic – maybe they were taking notes. Another product that succumbed to the price cutting ax is Logitech’s Revue Internet set-top box. While it has been on the market longer than the previously mentioned devices the price drop was quite substantial ($150 drop from $250) – in addition Google TV had difficulties securing content deals. While this brings the Revue (Google STB) on price parity with the Apple TV STB (and others like Roku) it too might give some early adopters pause in the future when a new product arrives. With all of these price cuts early adopters might start to think twice before pulling the trigger on their purchases. While price is almost universally important consumers have become particularly price sensitive – likely in response to the economic environment. Add in the rapid price drops, potential problems with services (e.g. Google TV not securing content deals) and the widespread availability of information about new products and the term “early adopter” could come to mean careless, lacking insight, and possibly overly extravagant instead of tech savvy – for most the antithesis of what it means to be an early adopter (for some the last one might be intended). Apple has largely remained unscathed in this process; in fact the company likely draws in the largest number of early adopters. But if Apple releases a new iPad this year (even a “pro” line), might the company risk perpetuating these potential issues with being an early adopter? Time will tell. In the end this might not be so much a matter of the death of early adopters but rather the need for companies to better assess pricing models and consumer demand/expectations. And if all else fails maybe giving early adopters cool names like “Ambassadors” will help ease the pain when others ask why you purchased the product at launch.
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