The Death of the Early Adopter

Carl Weinschenk

Marketers, vendors, carriers and service providers all should pay very close attention to a survey from Forrester Research and analysis of it by The New York Times.

The bottom line is that during the past few years a sea change has occurred. Consumer electronics and telecommunications firms used to speak confidently of first attracting "early adopters," who were "low hanging fruit." These folks would create the first revenues for a new service or product. More importantly, they were thought leaders, and if they-usually many "hes" and a few "shes"-saw the value in a particular technology, it would much more likely be pushed onto and adopted by the populace at large. In essence, early adopters were something of an extended beta test.

The times, according to The Times, are changing. Forrester's study was written up in some detail by Jenna Wortham because the paper recognizes an important shift in the ongoing dynamic. Of course, there still are folks who are more likely to jump on the bandwagon when it is inching out of the station. But what the gargantuan 48,000-plus respondent survey suggests is that non-early adopters now are far more likely to be open to new technology than before. Writes Wortham:

What used to be the pursuit of a few has become decidedly mainstream. We're all gadget geeks now.

The question here isn't whether some folks are further ahead of the curve than others. Some are, and they always will be. The real transition is that the onrushing waves of technology-smartphones, advanced broadband, home networks and various others-have made the population at large more sophisticated and made the concept of the early adopter less important.


The simple act of being alive today means that a person confronted with new technology is far less likely to automatically reject it than he or she would have been during the days that televisions relied on rabbit ear antennas. The fact that folks are more savvy robs early adopters of much of their influence.

Last month, I posted a blog that discussed a study released by Chetan Sharma and subsequently interviewed the analyst. The bottom line is that the wireless industry was able to weather the economic downturn because data revenues were way up. This is strong evidence of the truth of the basic premise laid out by Forrester and explored by The Times.

Of course, it's no surprise that a lot of data is flowing over wireless networks. It's important to step back and ask precisely what that means, however. The inescapable conclusion is that people are less afraid of technology. Other bits of evidence are easily found in the growth of VoIP, all the forms of IPTV and myriad other easily discernable trends.

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