Thursday, October 02, 2003

Early Adopters Always Get Punished

Michael Blowhard laments the pains of bad timing in tech purchases in this posting. He begins, "Do you have any knack for buying electronics? I seem to have an anti-knack myself. A typical experience: two weeks ago I bought a GameCube for $150. Seems to work fine, a little cheaper than the other videogame systems, patting myself on the back (in some relief) for a purchase well done, etc ... A week later, Nintendo reduced the price by $50. I could have used those 50 bucks."

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. As a technologist, I am often among early adopters in purchasing "cutting edge" technology. But, alas, the early adopter is always punished. Inevitably you will pay more for less and often be subjected to dealing with bugs and immature technology for your trouble. I was discussing this very fact with a colleague yesterday in reference to certain operating systems, that are released to the public before they are truly stable, and the reward that the early adopters receive for being unpaid beta testers? They are charged full price for the first major upgrade.

Michael continues, "Complicating matters is the fact that I rather enjoy doing the research -- arranging consultations with friends and acquaintances, riffling through consumer magazines, chatting with the guys at the store, making lists, endlessly websurfing. Especially endlessly websurfing ... My usual, and probably wise, pattern is to research an item exhaustively for several weeks, and then decide to put its purchase for a couple of years. I do this (and announce it to The Wife) feeling as though I’ve really accomplished something." But Michael goes on to say that it is only at the time of purchase that he gets into trouble.

Well Michael, this is the fate of all of us who love technological gadgets and toys. The fact is whenever you buy something you can count on the fact that within a short amount of time a better, faster, cheaper, bigger/smaller, newer, more powerful, shinier model will be just around the corner. That, my friend, is the nature of the beast in this society.

Look at the speed of development in just a couple of new technologies. The best example is DVD. It is the fastest growing phenomenon in the history of technology. The first players were in the $500 range. I bought my first player, after much research (and yes Michael, the research is the best part), a couple of years ago for $250. I just bought a new Panasonic DVD player with progressive scan (a high end feature not long ago), Dolby and DTS decoding, plays MP3s and burned mix CDs, displays JPEGS of homemade DVDs (ahhh the return of the boring vacation slideshow). And what did this technological marvel cost? $69 after $20 mail-in rebate.

The second area that is developing at the speed of light is digital photography. I paid around $750 for a 2 megapixel Olympus 2020Z about 2 years ago. Today that almost buys you the Digital Rebel, 6 megapixel SLR ($899 for the body, $999 with the lens). For the same price you have a pretty nice 4 or 5 megapixel camera from Canon, Nikon or Fuji, for example. For half the price you have a great 3 megapixel point and shoot. And this hasn't stopped yet.

My point? Simply that there is never a right time to purchase these things until they are no longer cutting edge. DVD is ubiquitous. They are as common as VCRs ever were and just as cheap. No reason to wait with a DVD player. Digital Cameras are still in that period where a lot of change and development is going on and prices will fall while quality rises. If you don't want that sinking feeling of having spent your hard earned money only to see something better come out the next week, wait. Or you can take the head in the sand approach that I find works so well. Do your research, get the best thing you can afford at the moment, and then don't look at the ads, don't read reviews, don't torture yourself. Live with what you bought, enjoy it for a year or two, and then upgrade when the technology has caught up with your wish list and your pocket book.

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